Out of Africa
Lyn journeys to Livingstone and gets up close and personal with Zamibia’s desert elephants
Jocelyn, my driver, screeched to a halt. We were almost level with three elephants beside the road to Livingstone town, Zambia, and the bull elephant was obviously in a very bad mood!
He stared directly at me and his huge ears slowly waved to and fro. He was shuffling his legs, his body poised to move forwards.There was more traffic building up behind us. We couldn’t reverse. A car coming in the opposite direction flashed its lights as it passed, distracting the elephant for a few seconds. Jocelyn revved the engine and shot past on the other side of the road. She pulled in further up the road, shaking, and I got out to take photos, walking quietly forwards between the thin line of trees.
The bull elephant was getting visibly angry now, flapping his ears and stamping his feet. Suddenly he marched across the road and stood in front of a minibus, forcing it to stop. It reminded me of a police blockade further down the road. The elephant walked behind the minibus and, lowering his head, he pushed it along the road!
I could sense the driver’s hands trembling as he managed to re-start the engine and drive away. Then the elephant charged, his trunk stuck out straight in front of him like a huge rifle, chasing the minibus. Jocelyn screamed out of the window: “Lyn! Lyn! He’s charging!”
“I know!” I naively called back, taking photos. The minibus was safely out of range and the elephant paused, looking around him. He spotted me across the road, between the trees, and the magnificent creature stared straight at me and began walking slowly towards me. It’s a very strange sensation having a wild bull elephant staring directly at you. I regretted wearing a red dress. As he drew nearer, I bravely stood my ground, taking the most marvellous photos, preparing to dive behind a tree at the last moment.
Did I hell. I legged it! Leaping into the car, I yelled, “Quick Jocelyn, turn around! Let’s get out of here!” She needed to do a three point turn, and the elephant was closing in. He was in no hurry. I even had my toes clenched! A few yards from us, he just lost interest. He turned away and stomped across the road again, like a normally mild-mannered man who has been pushed too far and had a confrontation with noisy neighbours. Then he trotted grumpily into the bush. He’d made his point. I nervously stared back over my shoulder as we drove away. The other two elephants still stood in the same place under the tree, calmly watching everything that had happened. Blimey, and we complain about being delayed by bollards in the road!
Every morning without fail Luigi, the head elephant keeper, spends a lot of time observing the seven elephants at The Mukuni Big 5. He watches them to sense their moods. Elephants work because they want to, not because they’re forced to. They enjoy their work most of the time. Even if just a couple of tourists go for a ride, all the other elephants go with them because they like to work as a team.
But sometimes one of the elephants decides that they fancy a day off. So they have it!
I watched the elephants appear over the hill, a keeper perched on top of each one. They approached the gate and lined up neatly, dangling their trunks over the fence.
(The elephants, not the keepers!) We were told that we needed to go with a keeper as we don’t have elephant driving licences. I had a short ride on Mary, which confused her a bit as she was used to going on longer treks. But I had a lot to do and was short of time.Back we went. I dismounted on the mounting/dismounting platform. Mary went straight to her place and dangled her trunk over the fence again.
Luigi gave me a handful of pellets and told me to say, ‘Mary, open your mouth.’
I did and her enormous mouth obediently opened wide, her trunk curled in the air. Reaching inside, I placed about a third of the pellets on her tongue and she closed her mouth. I said it again and she re-opened her mouth. She hadn’t eaten the other pellets yet. She knew that I had more.Fed up with waiting, Mary gently nuzzled my hand with the tip of her trunk and sucked up the rest like a giant Dyson.
In two memorable days I flew over the mind-boggling Victoria Falls in a helicopter, walked beside the Falls and stood right on the edge, nervously holding a guide’s hand, (Eat yer heart out, ‘elf & safety!) visited the crocodile farm and held a baby croc, cruised down the Zambezi at sunset, drinking G&Ts and spotting the wildlife on the river bank, lunched on Livingstone Island, which is under water for half the year, rode on an elephant, cuddled a lion, stroked a cheetah, and had a six course dinner on the luxurious Bush Steam Train while driving through the Bush.
So how was YOUR week?
I’d never considered having a holiday in Zambia before. However now I can’t wait to go back there, probably in the Spring, when the Victoria Falls are at their highest. Zambia is a great destination for the British because it has more in common with our small island, than a lot of European countries. English is the first language and everyone speaks it. They drive on the left. The plugs are three-pin, so you don’t need an adaptor. Despite the fairly long journey, they are only an hour ahead of us, so I didn’t suffer with jet-lag. The crime rate is very low. Shopping is fun, with unusual thing to buy. And the prices are peanuts. Service for tourists is excellent. Great hospitality. And the accommodation is sheer luxury. And the weather is hot, but not unbearably so. In short? I loved it.
South African Airways flies daily overnight from London Heathrow to Zambia via Johannesburg. Prices from £771.