A few moons ago, I was invited to travel with a friend to an exclusive lodge in The Kruger Park. I was to be the site inspection photographer. Bliss. The lodge had 10 suites (yes that type of exclusive) and was run by a lovely husband and wife team. Sadly, a few weeks before, there had been a serious bush fire in the region, so a lot of the greenery – trees especially – were now just stunted, blackened twigs. In the arrival / parking area of the lodge, there was, however, a beautiful thriving green tree. The reason that this tree made it was because it ‘belonged’ to the lodge and was kept watered and was protected during the fire.
Anyhow, we returned from a game drive and retired to our suite to prepare for dinner. At about 7ish, we all sit down for dinner with the husband and wife team who are our hosts. We chat about our day, what we’ve seen as we enjoy the delicious food that has been specially prepared for us. Just before main course, an askari* approaches the husband and he steps away from the table – something requires his attention.
Now, the lodge is set up on a hillside, the magnificent veld** falling away beneath us and with the glassed-in dining room, we have an almost 180° view of the land surrounding us. Now, understandably, it’s pitch dark as it’s night time. Except for, all of a sardine, I can see headlights from a Landrover (one of the game drive vehicles) advancing, then stopping, then reversing, then stopping, then advancing again (you get the picture) … this carries on with much hooting and some choice language from the occupants of the Landy for a good 30 minutes or so.
The rather charming lady of the lodge then explained that her husband, who was a qualified game ranger, amongst other things, was rather passionate about this single tree in the entrance. He had apparently planted it and kept it watered from a sapling. In his opinion this tree was in the lodge ‘garden’ (although there are no fences at all at the lodge) and therefore belonged to the lodge. He had saved said tree from the fire. The problem was that there was a young bull elephant that was hungry and in his opinion, this tree was the only one that had edible bits on it, especially as the other trees were all burnt. So, after dark, the young elephant came for dinner. The husband wasn’t having this, so he and the askari were playing ‘chicken’ with an 8,000+ pound elephant as to who ‘got’ the tree.
What we were all seeing was the mechanics of this ‘chicken’ dare. The young elephant would advance. The Landrover would reverse. They would hoot at the elephant and throw a brick at the elephant. The elephant would retreat. The Landrover would advance. And on it went. If memory serves, the ‘teenage’ elephant eventually gave ground and loped off into the reserve to see if he could find fresh pickings elsewhere – the husband returned to dinner looking triumphant.
All I remember is it was one of the funniest (if not rather scary!) stand offs I’ve ever seen and something truly never to be forgotten.
What does this have to do with water coolers you may ask? Well, truthfully, not much, but it does mention an elephant and the story is set in southern Africa. It just so happens that The Africa Trust, to who AquAid donate a sizeable portion of their revenue to, builds Elephant Pumps that bring clean drinking water to communities throughout southern Africa. Have a look see. (No, the mammalian ‘hero’ of this story isn’t how The Elephant Pump got its name.)
*An askari is a trusted scout; usually at a lodge, they are responsible for escorting guests between their rooms and the main areas as well as a having a number of other responsibilities.
**Veld is open, uncultivated country or grassland in southern Africa. It is conventionally divided by altitude into highveld, middleveld, and lowveld.