As a young guide I was dispatched to pick up a canoe safari that would be arriving the following day, at Nyamepi Camp in Mana Pools. Arriving after dark, I shared a camp fire and a welcome cup of tea with another guide, Alistair, who’s guests were flying in the following day and after a simple dinner, we both turned in for the night. As was the custom, we had each set up our bedroll’s, under mosquito nets, in the back of our vehicles, to avoid the attentions of the camps’ resident Hyena but at some point in the night, I awoke to find the tree next to me heaving and trashing, with something that looked suspiciously like a large vacuum hose hanging from its branches?! Once I was fully awake I realized that what I was looking at, was an elephant standing under the low hanging branches of a tree with most of his body was hidden from sight. The vacuum hose was his trunk, which which he was busy sucking up seed pods, and shoveling them up into his mouth.
Soon he emerged into the starlight, and in three strides was looming alongside my Land Rover while I lay in the back, completely relaxed, enjoying the view. Then the unexpected happened! He was obviously trying to figure out what the white cone of my mosquito net was and tried to turn his head to look at it straight on. Being so close to the Land Rover, his tusk struck the “bull bars” on the back of the truck rocking the vehicle on it’s suspension and I fully expected him to back up in order to turn his head. Instead he raised his head up- lifting his tusk over the bars and then craned his neck to get a better look into the back of the truck. Suddenly, I had his entire head- trunk and two very long, very pointy looking tusks IN the back of the truck with me! His face was pressed up against my mosi net, I could have reached up and touched the tip of his tusk which was now close to puncturing a hole in the net and possibly me beneath it! I lay very still- not quite sure of what would happen next, but after a short pause, that seemed like an eternity, he lifted his head out of the truck, strolled around the front and then made a bee line for where Alistair lay snoring quietly.
To my mind he appeared to tiptoe up to Alistair’s Land Rover, silently running his tusks through the bars on the back and then quite deliberately gave the entire vehicle a jolly good shake, his tusks ringing the bars on the back like an old school bell at break time! Alistair awoke to this bedlam and swore loud and long at which point, the elephant turned around and swaggered off in the moonlight, having proved his point that this was his patch. I called over to Alistair to ask if he was OK and his wry comment was, if memory serves, something like “Another close call!” shortly followed by more snoring.
Ask any guide you know and they will tell you- Elephants definitely have a great sense of humor!