Monday, April 4, 2016

An encounter with an elephant.

One time long ago I was sampling figs in the Kruger National Park with Christoff. This was hard work since we needed to carry the equipment to sample, which included several very long poles with pruning shears attached to the end. Additionally we also had to carry all the collected material back to the car - each bag of samples weighing several kilograms. This was all done in the sun, walking over rough terrain and wearing long trousers to limit the likelihood of gathering ticks. In essence heat was one of the main factors affecting the experience.

Our strategy consisted of driving on the park roads while checking the GPS*  and the map where the trees are located until we were as close to the sample tree as the road would allow (*note that we used an old-school GPS that only displayed the coordinates and we needed use a paper-map to orientate ourselves). This is where we parked the car, took all the relevant equipment and continued on foot. We also had a armed park ranger who accompanied us on these extravehicular activities. Since the trees of intrest often grow next to rivers we would sample several in one go if they were located reasonably close to each other by following the river or river bed, rather than returning to the car every time.

On ons such an occasion we sampled 5 or 6 trees and had quite a number of bags of figs with the accompanying sticky fig tree latex everywhere, scratches from the falling branches, our entourage insects and the ever present sampling poles when the guard suddenly told us to stop. We were at that time busy sampling the last tree that was also the closest to the car before we would drive on. The reason - a curious elephant was approaching us. All our stuff were strewn around the tree we were sampling, all the sampling poles fully extended and all the maps and collection papers ready to be annotated when this happened. We were to drop everything immediately and move away slowly, preferably downwind from the elephant and if possible also out of sight. We did as instructed and left several hours of work while following the park ranger.

The elephant approached the tree and saw all the stuff. From a distance we saw the elephant. Our fear at this stage was not that the huge beast will see us and try to trample us to death but rather that he/she would destroy some or all of the day's samples and the equipment. Luckily for us this did not happen. After a short while, cautiously walking around the tree, and not-stepping on any of our things or samples, the elephant moved on and disappeared into the bushes several meters away. We waited a while and the guard led us back to the sampling site. We continued, keeping a ear out for any sound but nothing strange happened.

This is one exciting event that happened a lifetime ago while doing field work. Since then life has changed quite a lot. I did, however, recently sprint back home and stumble over the steps next to the house when I thought I heard a beast rapidly approaching from the bushes next to our garden but this turned out to be something different altogether...