(Photo by Marlon du Toit – used with permission.)
Anyone that has followed my Nuggets or seen many of my posts and pictures on Face Book can quickly see that I have a long standing love affair with African elephants. Apart from the obvious fact that I was born in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), I lived in an era when the country had not yet been tainted by the trappings of the modern world.
I grew up knowing what it was to see these magnificent animals plus many other African animals, in their natural pristine wild setting. As a teenager and subsequent years I read everything I could get my hands on about the character, personality and habits of Elephants; the more I studied them the more I fell in love with them. It goes without saying that these are unique and highly intelligent animals that continually amaze the naturalists that study them.
This Nugget was passed onto me from a friend, who served in the security forces in Rhodesia. I am sharing it because it is a prime example of the nature and intelligence of African elephants.
The setting of this experience took place when the terrorist war in Rhodesia was ratcheting up; heinous and brutal attacks on innocent farmers, villagers, children and missionaries were being perpetrated by bands of roving terrorists.
As missionaries we had been targeted on several occasions. They were even returning to their own villages and killing their own families. It was a time of carnage, heart-ache and tension for our beloved country. The setting for this account takes place in a wilderness sanctuary called Mana Pools.
To any Rhodesian, this place will evoke warm memories of camping or staying in a lodge with so many species of wild-life moving freely in the bush, within sight of the camps. Mana Pools is well known for its elephant population.
Due to the ever increasing problem with poaching, there was a good Game Ranger contingency that patrolled the Mana Pools area daily. Many patrolled on foot and others patrolled with Land Rovers. One of the Game Rangers; who for the purpose of this account I will call “Boet” (to protect the identity of the family), was assigned the perimeter patrol.
He daily did his forays into the deep bush in his trusty bush scarred Land Rover. He carried a radio for communications with base camp, a high powered rifle and the obligatory canvas water bag; that hung on the front of the vehicle providing a source of cool water.
One day he was in a more remote part of the Reserve and he stopped under the shade of an Acacia tree to eat his sandwiches. The serenity of his resting place was disrupted by the entrance of a rather agitated young bull elephant. It would seem he had parked in this particular spot the elephant used for his afternoon siesta!
Boet gently released the clutch and moved a short distance away where he could observe the elephant in relative safety. He appeared alone; probably a young bull that had been kicked out of the herd as he was getting too big and it was time for him to be separated by the matriarch elephant from the babies. Once he moved the elephant relaxed and stood contentedly; while keeping a wary eye on the human intruder. Finally Boet drove off to finish his rounds and headed back to base camp.
Day after day this scenario was repeated! Boet would park under the tree and within a few minutes, his new found friend would arrive letting him know he needed to move!
Over time the elephant became relaxed and comfortable with this strange smelling machine and its human occupant! So Boet decided to try an experiment and slowly got out of the Land Rover and simply stood still beside it. The first couple of times the elephant became agitated but slowly he relaxed and would stand resting under the shade of the tree with what now was his human companion. Weeks passed and Boet gradually built a trust with the elephant, to the point of tossing him dog biscuits which he downed with relish.
Even though Boet had developed a comfortable relationship with the elephant, he did not try touching him as he did not want him becoming too trusting of humans, for fear he would easily become a poacher’s victim.
One morning he was asked to check an area that was not on his normal patrol route, as there had been some reports of a possible poacher camp. Boet headed out bumping along as he followed the animal trails. He reached the area in question and his keen “bush sense” told him something was wrong. The calls of birds, chirping of crickets…..all normal sounds of the African bush had fallen silent and there was an uneasy air prevailing strong enough to give Boet the goose-bumps.
His eyes scanned the tangled bushes then without warning, all hell broke loose. Boet had actually driven into a camp of a band of terrorists and not poachers, as he was expecting.
Four men came out of the undergrowth with their AK 47 assault rifles blazing; Boet was out gunned and outnumbered! As he tumbled from the Land Rover crawling on his belly to hide behind it, he frantically radioed base camp for help, and then began to fire back knowing that it was highly unlikely help could arrive before these four men took him out. If he was going down he was going to go down with a fight! Bullets were flying and hitting the Land Rover, Boet took a hit in the leg but was determined not to give up when suddenly silence reigned.
What had happened? Why had the terrorists not finished him off?
The shriek of an enraged elephant gave him his answer.
Out of nowhere the elephant that Boet had developed a friendship with, came charging through the bush and straight for the terrorists who dropped their weapons and fled for their lives!
Boet was shaking so hard with his brush with death that it took a few minutes to regain his composure. He pulled off his belt and made a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding, then propped himself up against the land rover hoping the ranger team would arrive soon as he could not defend himself if the terrorists came back.
Then the elephant did a strange thing; instead of continuing to chase the fleeing men, he came back and silently stood right beside the disabled vehicle and his injured human friend. He made no attempt to leave; just standing guard until a Patrol of Rangers arrived. Then silently, the elephant melted into the bush as though he knew his duty to Boet was done.
Why had the elephant come when he did as this was not their normal meeting place?
How did he know his kind human friend was in trouble and badly needed help?
I have no answers to these questions but it shows the amazing level of intelligence of these magnificent animals and the result of a trust that had been forged between the Ranger and a wild elephant. Amazingly Boet never ever encountered his wild friend again.
One thing I have learned in my journey with God is that many times God will meet our immediate need from the most unlikely sources!
He has promised His trusting children Divine protection! An example of this promise is:
Psalm 91:11 (NKJV) “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”
That hot day in the Mana Pools wilderness, God sent an “angel” in the form of an elephant to save Boet from being killed by evil men!
This gives me courage to face my tomorrows no matter how foreboding they appear, for I have a Divine friend who is walking beside me and who is greater than any enemy, or evil plan, that would harm me!
Yes, in today’s world, the “out-look” may be bleak; but I assure you the “up-look” is bright!
Let me close with God’s promise to Joshua of old, which still stands true today.
Joshua 1:9 (NKJV) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”