We were camping near the Tsavo River in southern Kenya. A quiet New Year’s Eve, my wife and I on cots under mosquito nets, our youngest son (nine) stretched out on the jeep’s front seat with the windows closed against mosquitoes, and the two older boys on cots under mosquito nets in a canvas tent.
It was one of those soft and lovely Kenya nights – a warm breeze carrying a taste of water and of the surrounding savanna that has heated all day under the sun. We’d had a splendid New Year’s dinner of peanut butter on undercooked banana bread and water purified with iodine. It had been a long day on the savanna and everyone was sleepy. A few lions were muttering in the distance but seemed unlikely to come closer.
A near-full moon flitted through the branches overhead. How lovely to lie there under the mosquito net, one’s beloved beside one and surrounded by our children, hearing the marvelous night melodies of jackal barks, baboon calls, hyena howls and lion roars, of crickets and night birds and monkey chatter and the occasional scream of a gazelle caught in a lion’s jaws. Then over all that came a loudening rumble that literally shivered the earth. With a rip and crash of branches, a trumpet call then more, the nearing thunder of huge columnar legs, and the hissing breaths and chatter of huge beasts, an elephant herd strolled into our camp.
They blotted out the moon. That’s how tall they were. Their shoulders were like mountains, their legs like columns of the Parthenon. Their tusks flashed silvery in the moonlight as they tore the branches and sucked down the delicious young leaves.
I felt not a moment’s fear. The elephants passed on both sides of us as if we were their own kind. As if they recognized our children. I felt almost loved, protected by a community that understood us far more than we understand ourselves.
Out of nowhere a large thing uncoiled at me. I flinched fearing a Gabon viper or savanna cobra. But no, a kid elephant had stuck its trunk in my face, took a sniff and backed away. Ugh, human.
Its mother gave a gentle bellow and the young one trotted to her side. They passed on, eating trees and crunching the earth and leaving behind them a sense of love and togetherness I’ve only elsewhere found in porpoises. Though never in humans.
A huge female paused beside us. With a comfortable groan she began to pee. She peed and peed and peed. And peed and peed. My wife says it lasted twenty minutes, and that for an hour after she didn’t dare put a foot on the ground for fear of wading in it. All I know is when I picked up my running shoes in the morning they were still soaked.
Of course those herds have all died now under the poachers’ guns. The guns that provide ivory to China and America and buy automatic weapons for Al Shabaah and all the other Moslem crazies in Africa and elsewhere.
When I was young the elephant herds stretched three miles long and a mile wide on their seasonal migrations through central Kenya, and now their last remnants are being slaughtered with automatic weapons and helicopters for rich people’s trinkets in China, the US, Japan and Thailand. Google has ten thousand sites selling blood ivory. In ten more years the elephants will be extinct.
Though many governments including the US have made piddling (and well mediatized) attempts to slow the slaughter, no serious action against China has ever been considered. And every time we buy something made in China we contribute to the slaughter of elephants, as well as lions and many other species.
In ten years Africa’s, and Asia’s, elephants will be extinct. After millions of years of evolution. Along with thousands of other species. How does that compare with the latest football scores or what’s now hot on TV?
Photo credit: Elephant Face Upclose by Meryl L. Moss