Armchair Safari – Elephant Haunts

For Henry Faulkner, the search for Dr. Livingstone was mainly another opportunity to hunt along the untapped shores of Lake Malawi. Livingstone’s encounters with elephants had been dramatically recounted by Thomas Baines and Faulkner anticipated hunting thrills when he set out on his own expedition.

When Livingstone was on the west shore of this lake, he always found a welcome among the local tribes. It was an area where the wind blew from the southeast, and as we were on a lee shore, we had a rough time making progress. However, we were gradually being driven ashore not far from where the men we sent ahead had made a campfire. To avoid losing the boat in this shallow area, all hands were called from shore to take the cargo out and beach the boat while we hunted. It was a dirty job, wading with a heavy load on my head. One man almost tumbled with our case of brandy. However, after an hour’s wet work we were high and dry and I surrendered myself to sleep.

It blew hard all night and I was determined to get a good night’s sleep. At 8 a.m., having finished breakfast, I spread my waterproof sheet under a large tree in a sheltered spot, and having a gun case for a pillow, lay down. However, I was not destined to enjoy much rest, for scarcely had I made myself snug, when a native came and asked me if I would go and shoot some elephants, saying that he could show me some not far off. There was but one answer to this question and in a few minutes everything was ready.  Putting one biscuit in my pocket I started, as usual, accompanied by two men, Moloka and Chinsoro. As I hoped to be back early, I took nothing else to eat.

The first part of our walk lay across a plain about three miles broad, flat as a billiard table, with small patches of scrub here and there. Over all this there was not a sign of any kind of game. But at the far side was a low ridge, thickly wooded, about a mile in breadth. Through this we also passed without seeing a single track. We then entered a regular prairie covered with long grass, about five or six miles across, and to my surprise the track we chose led right through the center of it, on to another wooded ridge just discernible at the opposite side. I now began to think there was something wrong going on.

Why should this man have come of his own accord to ask me to go shooting? Why should he take me such a distance from the party, after having positively assured me that it was only a little way, and that we should be back before sunset? We were 10 or 12 miles from the boat and my men begged me to return, saying this guide was “No good.” So I asked the guide where we were going. Pointing to the trees in front he said, “Behind these trees there is a small river, and along the river there are quantities of reeds and bamboos, and elephants are always among them.”

I determined at risk to see it out and told him to go on. After a long and hot walk over this vast plain we reached the trees and soon passed through them. Here another plain presented itself, only half the extent of the one we just traveled and then another belt of trees. I was losing confidence so asked again where we were going. He informed me that the trees we just saw were on the bank of the river and the bamboos where the elephants fed were on the other side. Beginning to feel the effects of hunger I ate the only biscuit I had with me.

Another 15 minutes brought us to the edge of a belt of trees on the other side of which we were to find the river. It turned out this place was actually marked on Livingstone’s map to the river Lintipe. I was now on the river’s bank, about 40 feet above the water, the river being about 100 yards wide. I ascertained in crossing it that the average depth was two feet, but the current strong. On the opposite side was a dense march of reeds and bamboo, growing 15 feet tall.

The men were tired and thirsty when we reached the river and welcomed the rest. We were 20 miles from camp and the sun had passed the meridian two hours ago. Moloka said that if we crossed the river after elephants we would not be back before morning and we had nothing to eat. However, I determined on walking a little way along the bank knowing that if there were any elephants about, they would have been down to drink, and unless I found fresh spoor within 30 minutes I would return. I then walked half a mile up the river, saw no spoor and turned back.

The local guide was indignant, saying that if we would only cross the river into the reeds he would show us elephants. I was almost inclined to follow him. As we stood talking the matter over a distant noise burst upon our ears. “What is that,” I asked. “Elephant,” came the reply. In breathless silence we listened for about five minutes when the noise was repeated. No doubt – there WERE elephants in the reeds, though some distance off. The guide exhibited his delight by dancing with himself.  Meanwhile, after looking to the guns, I asked whether there were any trees on the other side. The reply was, “No, all reeds and bamboos.”

In another minute we were wading the river. And soon after entering the dense reeds we found spoor and followed it up. Most of this place was so thick that had it not been for the elephants making a path we could not have got through. But as we were on the right road it did not matter. Soon I ascertained that the herd was not far off. Their tracks took us down to the river where it was evident they had been drinking, and crossing it, they went along the bank for some little distance. Finding the country too exposed the elephants crossed back into the reeds again. The line they took was straight, and straight away from camp. I began to think about no dinner, no bed, etc. but kept those unpleasant thoughts to myself. I hoped that when we did catch up to the elephants it would be on more favorable ground. And so it was.

As we left the rank vegetation along the river banks behind, the green reeds began to disappear and we were soon sufficiently far from the influence of water to be amongst dry reeds and long grass, through which it was easier to see as well as walk. At last the elephants were heard by all of us, quite close, and appeared to be moving quietly along, crushing the dry reeds under their ponderous feet as they went. A little nearer and the backs of some of the hindmost could be seen. But there was no change of getting a shot at them, at least until they got into some grass, as I could not go on to get ahead of them while in these strong reeds. Suddenly the entire herd pulled up short and I heard several of them sniffing the air through their trunks. My heart sank and I felt as if we were discovered and the chance of a shot gone. Fearing they would be gone in a minute, I hastened up to them as they stood. I was actually standing within 20 yards of them, and could see the backs of many through the reeds, when one of their number turned sharply around and approached us quietly with his trunk up. In an instant I was flat on the ground beckoning to Moloka and the men to imitate my example, which they quickly did. On came the elephant, his trunk still up and feeling about. I knew it was useless to fire and I could not imagine what was going to happen.

It would not do to let him walk quietly over us, and still to fire at him then would be without any hopes of success, with the almost certainly of being followed by a charge. That I did not particularly care about in this kind of jungle where one could scarcely move. However, while I spent a second or two looking at both sides of the question, the elephant pulled up, standing straight on to me, not more than eight yards off, every now and then feeling about with his trunk and then letting it hang.

I was lying flat on the ground and though I might have fired at him, I could not have killed him, as I should either have shot into the solid bone between the base of his tusks, or else into the forehead. The latter would necessarily pass far above the brain at that angle. I then thought of waiting in the hope that he would turn and offer a temple shot, but doubted that would prove effectual from where I was. So I knew there was only one thing to do. I jumped to my feet. As I did so, the monster threw back his huge ears, but ere he had time to move a limb a shot from the right barrel of the gun had penetrated his brain through the forehead and he fell to rise no more. The remainder of the herd bolted at once, several of them trumpeting loudly. Accompanied by Moloka I gave chase but from the rough nature of the ground I saw it was useless.

This was all very well, there was a fine pair of tusks to be cut out and carried home, but it was near sundown and we were more than 20 miles from home. Having had nothing but the biscuit to eat since 7 a.m., I was uncommonly hungry. We were soon at work cutting out the tusks, and the local guide, who was almost frantic with excitement, made a fire and cut a choice bit from the trunk of the fallen elephant. He then stuck it on a stick close over the fire to roast and said it was the best part of the elephant. He placed several of these steaks out before me and then went to assist in chopping out the tusks.

I don’t know how long it would have taken to consume this because I never succeeded in masticating any of it properly. It was after sunset when we left the carcass of the elephant, carrying his tusks with us, and after crossing the river, my “now worthy” guide informed me that we would return by a shorter route.  Actually, I was hoping we would return the same way because we had passed some village where I now hoped we could get something to eat. But when I told him this, he replied, “Oh, there are villages this way, too.”

And so we continued. I was carrying the lighter firearm and the heavy Rigby 10, my gun bearer carrying two other guns, and two men carried one tusk each. It was bright moonlight as we approached a large village, and were challenged by several men who stood close to a hut. Others turned out armed with guns and I took up a position by a large tree. My man told them that I was an Englishman, but they insisted that we had been fighting because they heard shots. Leaving my guns against the tree, I took one of my men and advanced about 40 yards, asking them to talk with me. I told them that I had been shooting elephants, not men and immediately one of my men held up one of the tusks. Several of the men approached, some unarmed, and others laid down their arms. They gathered around me and one man said, “You have been hunting elephants all day. You must be very hungry, come to my hut.”

I said that I could not leave my men but that if he would bring me something to eat I would show all of them the guns, etc. He was off with a bound while my man and I returned to the tree. We were followed by 40 or 50 natives. My man preached a sermon and ended his text with the words, “This man killed the elephant to whom these tusks belongs with ONE shot.” We then ate and bid them goodbye.

After a long walk, I reached the boat. I decided not to try to make it back to camp at night, so I cooked my own supper, lit a pipe, appreciated the slight breeze and slept with my men. –selected and edited by Ellen Enzler-Herring of Trophy Room Books

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