It was a bright, sunny day with a light breeze blowing across the waterhole close to the pit blind where my friend Glenn and I had been sitting all morning. Glenn was an experienced bowhunter and eager to bag a large kudu bull. The one he wanted had shown itself the previous day, but so far Glenn had been unable to make a trophy out of him. Around 10 o’clock a herd of kudu cows came to the water to drink. They were accompanied by a young bull, but not the one Glenn was after. After a troop of baboons had entertained us with their antics around the waterhole, a herd of zebra to drink and I managed to take several photographs of them and the few impala that arrived to taste the salt lick.
Nature’s surroundings, the silence and the heat of the day made us pleasantly drowsy and because not many animals came in to drink during the midday heat, we took turns dozing. Sitting still with limited movements caused our stomachs to give a rumble every now and then, a sign that we should nibble on something other than biltong and biscuits. After one particularly loud “tummy rumble” I asked Glenn in a whisper whether it was his stomach making such a loud noise, because what I heard was definitely not coming from my stomach. Scarcely had he shaken his head in reply when the blind suddenly became dark and there they were – the elephants. All we could see through the shooting windows were legs the size of tree stumps and long thick trunks.
Amid much trumpeting and blowing the elephants drank and bathed in the waterhole less than 25 yards away from us, while we tried to keep as quiet as the proverbial mouse. Quietly, we moved to the furthest back corner of the blind, from where I tried to take as many photographs as I could of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Afraid? Yes, I think you could say that, but I resolved to take enough photos so that there would be ample evidence of the incident in case something happened to us. After my photo session I peered over my shoulder at Glenn, only to see this experienced hunter curled up wide-eyed in his corner sitting ready with a broadheaded arrow to stab anything coming his way, hoping that the elephants wouldn’t pick up our scent.
After about ten minutes the waterhole was empty and the elephants began to stand around, bored. They sniffed the air with their long trunks – probably smelling our nervousness. One old cow, the grandmother leader of the herd, walked directly towards the blind and stuck her trunk through the shooting window! Only the previous evening we had listened to the hunters’ campfire stories of elephants’ excellent sense of smell and hearing. We had also heard of how an elephant would use his trunk to delicately pick up a piece of cotton string off the ground and then could use the same limb to strip the skin off your body!
There we sat, each one in his own corner while the elephant sniffed us out with a trunk that was thankfully too short to reach us. Fortunately the blind was buried in the ground, which meant that the elephant had to lie down on her stomach in order to reach us and she did not see her way clear to climbing over the sharp stones that they had packed around the blind.
After she had satisfied herself that we were not a threat to her herd, she and the others left, moving upwind, just as quietly as they had arrived. After several deep sighs of relief we couldn’t stop talking and continuously interrupt each other in our haste to relate our observations and emotions. With barely concealed excitement we could not wait to tell the other hunters around the campfire that night of our unique experience.
Later that afternoon at the waterhole we were entertained with the mud antics of two young warthogs and ox-peckers (tick birds) who pluck the ticks so efficiently off the Impala and Gemsbuck that came in to drink.
The kudu bull? He became an excellent trophy the following day, but that is another story.