Monthly Archives: June 2012

Bush Parade…Right Outside My Door

The other night, I was quite literally living inside a parade.  A parade of elephants.  A breeding herd decided to come visit the camp at 10pm.  We had elephants of all sizes traipsing through the brush literally walking down the pathways and between the tents.

All I could do was stand in my doorway and watch them go by, as I didn’t dare try to get any photos.   Elephants weigh a few tons, have no problem throwing their weight around, and have an aversion to camera flashes, particularly at night.  I live in a canvas tent.  Picture of an elephant eating the tree next to my window and then me getting squooshed when I momentarily blind it and piss it off?  Or stay alive and contentedly watch them from my front stoop as they blithely puttered along down the pathway and stay intact?  I chose to stay intact, so I’m sorry, but I have no photos of the experience for you.  However, I do have plenty of photos of close encounters with elephants, which I’ve included, as a stand-in for our late-night visitors.

We knew the elephants were in the area.  One of the perks of living on a reserve is that there are many people constantly in the bush for some reason or another, whether it is field guides guiding guests, the anti-poaching unit patrolling the perimeters, the wildlife monitors tracking animals, or simply the reserve manager out for a late-afternoon jol.  All of them keep everyone else abreast of what is going on, and what animals are where.  All except the rhinos.  The rhinos’ whereabouts are on lock-down these days, and for good reason.  We even have to keep a tight lid on the rhino locations when we see them – we are only supposed to report them to certain people, and not over the radio.  Elephants, however, are fair game on any radio channel, and honestly, it’s a safety concern when it comes to elephants.  When they pass through, they cause all kinds of damage, and aren’t always the most pleasant of creatures when you surprise them in the bush.  Or when they surprise you when you’re walking out of the bathroom.  Which happens more often than you’d think.

Rarely do we get a chance to see them at night, though, so it was breathtaking to be standing in my doorway as several-ton beings ambled by, munching on my yard, clearing a view for us as they tore away branches (and even small trees).  While they, like any animal, are unpredictable, it wasn’t their behavior I was concerned with, though. It was my little white Golf sitting in their pathway that had me worried.  Though it would make no sense for them to intentionally squoosh the car, they were eating the trees all around the car, and elephants have a penchant for knocking trees over to get at the moist roots.  The car was right in the path of a few tall acacia trees.  Not only would the car suffer serious damage from the weight of a tree falling on top of it, but it would also sustain damage from the three-inch thorns populating the branches of said tree like a medieval torture device.

For two hours, my fiancé and i periodically got up and watched the elephants from my door, both of us wrapped in sleeping bags to ward off the night chill, and stock still so as to not disturb the company.  We saw an entire family, from little peanuts tripping through the brush to big brothers and sisters knocking their younger siblings about, to older matriarchs keeping the teenagers in line with occasional swats of their trunks.

When we weren’t at the door, we were in bed listening to them chewing the scenery all around our tent.  All night, we heard their low rumblings, occasional trumpeting, and more than a few fart bubbles.  The sounds reverberated through my body and eventually lulled me to sleep.

When we woke in the morning, the only reminders of our evening visitors where branches littering the pathways, a few less trees and shrubs, a better view of the river, and some rather large, smelly squares of dung.  Some of the students, whose tents were literally a foot from where the elephants walked, had not even woken up last night.  That’s one of the most amazing things about these creatures – while they may weight several tons and grow to a good 15 feet high, they can also move soundlessly, the fat pads on their feet enabling them to maneuver like ninjas through even the thickest leaf litter.  As always, nature manages to amaze me once again.

Song of the day: “Nellie the Elephant” by Toy Dolls

By the way, an elephant with its trunk up, like the one in this photo below, is supposed to be good luck.  While that’s nice to consider, really, they’re just sniffing you out…


All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo

A local ellie taking a sniff around

Ellies crossing the road

Elephants on parade

Ellie siblings
Baby and sister ndlovus giving love

Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

South African Adventure #1000 – Flying Offices and Lucky Breaks

I went to bed to a raucous chorus of crickets and cicadas.  This morning, there’s a whole new sound – roaring water. We had a massive thunderstorm blow through last night.  Today, my office is in a tree.  It’s funny how big of a role geography plays in the ways storms affect things.  We’ve had several since I started working here.  They’ve made a muddy mess, but haven’t caused any real damage, which is lucky, since my thatch-roofed abode with the aluminum solar panel on top is a fire hazard from hell.  Last night’s was different.  Last night’s almost swept the entire camp away.

Had the storm blown in from any other direction, we would’ve gotten a proper soaking, but not much else.  Because it came in from the north, which is contrary to the direction the storms usually come from, much of the camp was exposed to the extremely high winds as well as the soaking rains.  Everything that wasn’t properly secured (which is most of the camp) suffered serious damage, from permanently mangled tent poles to irreparably torn canvas tents to an airborne office.

Because the storm system was quite severe upriver, we were literally ambushed by floodwaters that originated many, many miles from where we are. In fact, had we gotten no rain at all, we still would’ve gone from dry river bed, to a fully flowing Niagara deal.  Several water systems converge just slightly upriver from where we’re based.  Any water that fell there rushed downriver towards us and eventually pooled in the narrow channel right outside my door.  The waters filled the riverbed and rose about 20 feet in only a few hours.  Now I truly understand the potency and unpredictability of flash floods.

The image you see above is not a giant deflated balloon, but in fact my prior place of employment.  I still have a job, it’s just I no longer have an office in which to do said job.  Then again, it wasn’t much of an office to begin with, so maybe this destruction is for the best.  Okay, not maybe.  It is DEFINITELY for the best.

Bush Office

This is what happens when you work in a tent that isn’t properly secured…

That pathetic, drooping mess in the photo used to be an 8×10 foot canvas tent, sheltered from the blistering Limpopo heat by marula and jackalberry trees.  Small animals, birds, and insects regularly dropped by for some watercooler chat.  It was a nice, casual environment.  I was about 30 feet from the kitchen, about three feet from the lecture hall, and a short tumble down a riverbank to the dry riverbed below.  After last night, though, it isn’t a dry riverbed anymore.  In fact, it’s an actual flowing river now, complete with rip currents and small rapids.  It’s amazing that you can fall asleep to sand and wake up to water.  And it’s scary how destructive that water can be.

It took about 15 people to get my office down from where it was hanging in the tree.   Everyone in camp spent the day resetting up tents, cleaning, and rebuilding.  There was mud everywhere, including in my office laptop.  Again, another blessing, since that little dinosaur of technology was well past its use-by date.  Since my employers have no interest in bringing the camp up to the 21st century, but somehow expect me to work within the parameters of 21st century technology, I had to rely on luck to get the useless piece of history replaced.  Of course, this now leaves me with NO technology at all, but honestly, that isn’t all that far off from where I was a day ago. At least now I have what will be considered a viable excuse as to why I can’t do my work.  Without a computer, no one can tell me it’s my fault that the battery needs to be replaced, or that the internet doesn’t work (and yes, this stuff actually gets blamed on me, not on the lack of a working battery or almost nonexistent signal out here).  Of course, it also means I have no computer, plain and simple.  Luckily for me, I have a personal laptop that managed to avoid total destruction.  My employers don’t know that, though, and I’m not planning on telling them.  Sometimes I really feel you need to savor the moment and practice acts of self-preservation. This is one of those times when what they don’t know won’t hurt them, and will keep me sane.

I would like to add that the current flock of students did a tremendous job of putting the Humpty Dumpty camp back together again.  Everyone did his or her part, no matter how unpleasant, and we did eventually get the office out of the tree.  Of course, like the bedtime character, there was no way we were putting it back together again.

Now, until we get a new tent to replace my mutilated one, my office consists of a plastic chair, a notebook on my lap, and an unobstructed view of the new river.  Really, it could be a lot worse.  No rush on that office, guys, no rush at all.  Of course, as they say, this is Africa.  I’m pretty sure there would be no rush anyway.  And that’s fine with me.


Song of the day – as to be expected, ‘Africa’, by Toto.  Because today I am blessing the rains….


All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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