Monday, April 30, 2012

3 Tusks 1 Elephant

Some months back, I was invited to join a friend at one of Kwando’s lodges in Nxai Pan National Park, just for 2 nights, it’s a wonderful area and so I jumped at the opportunity to play client at a lodge.

My normal roll is somewhere between client and staff. I am lucky to get to some of the best lodges and camps in Botswana and to be paid at the same time keeps the wheels on my small wagon from falling off most of the time… However it can be most frustrating when seated at the diner table and having to explain to inquisitive safari goers.  I’m a ‘photographer of tents’ and for the most part wildlife is out of reach of ordinary people in Botswana . . And then listen to the wonderful tails of the day and the leopard sittings, the lion stories and just how the bush just outside the lodge is teaming with wildlife, my usual response is to keep quiet and just enjoy the tourist tails and try to interject interesting events from my own experiences from the bush from time to time.

This time I was the tourist and enjoying all the game drives. With the other 8 clients in the land cruiser and absolutely no room for my 400mm photography was taking a bit of a back seat, literally. And then you have the guide talking the talk! African Massage (its bumpy but I’m not going to slow down) flying banana (yellow billed hornbill) etc etc. It was at this point that all my time it the lodge seamed to be just as wonderful and at time much better than the clients game drive. One time at Savuti as soon as the clients went out on a game drive, there’s a welcome silence that falls over the lodge, at which point you appreciate that the lodge is in the bush, and the bush is in the lodge, a snake, an elephant and in this case 6 wild dog came right past the tent I was working in, oh happy days.

So back to Nxai Pan and there I was sitting on the deck all alone watching the elephants come and drink in small groups 3-5 at a time, it was a cool day we had had some light rain earlier and the light was flat and quite dull. The elephants where melting back into the surrounding trees, 1 or zebra were also coming to drink between the elephants, the odd giraffe. Then a rather distinct looking elephant was coming from the tree line, a bit taller, walking a bit stiffer, not mixing with the others, I just felt he was different so picking up my binoculars for a closed look, I looked again… Wow 3 tusks ! And my big lens was in the chalet… now running on a wet deck is not a good idea but for some reason this deck was teak oiled on top of the varnish so was equivalent to a skating ring at this point, sliding left and right as I attempted to gain some speed. But luck was on my side and the tri-tusker was going in the same direction. Now chalet 8 was approximately 120meters from the main lodge were I first spotted the elephant, so it was quite a slip n slide and this guy wasn’t hanging around like the others, he was leaving a quite a pace. Tripod, 400mm, x1.7 converter, Nikon D300 … yes… got 3 shots off … Relax. On his right side the tusk appears normal but the left tusk is growing straight down and has bee for years, male elephant tusk grow at approximately 17cm per year. He also has a second smaller tusk growing backwards on his left side. Also note an abscess behind his right ear.
Later that evening I’m seated at the diner table and listening the usual client sightings for the day, I really did have a big smile and the new story was told of the 3-tusked elephant that visited the waterhole that day.