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Armchair Safari – Hunting A Rogue Elephant In the Grip of the Nyika

The next day we continued our march towards Marsabit but, had to go rather slowly on account of B., who was feverish and had to be carried in a hammock, while Mrs. B. and I took it in turns, when it got very hot, to walk beside him with an umbrella to shade him from the fierce rays of the sun. The path was very bushy but there were few thorn trees, which is a great comfort, for where these abound the unfortunate porters have a very bad time, as they keep catching in the loads as the men walk along. Once during this toilsome march we suddenly came upon a lion right in our path, about 100 yards ahead. He galloped off the moment he caught sight of us and made for a bit of thicket away to our left.

I put Aladdin after him at his top speed, but the lion made good his escape among the dense bush, from which, in spite of my best efforts, I was unable to cut him off.

This was a very hard day for the donkeys on account of the rough nature of the ground, and it gave Munyakai a good deal of trouble to get them to camp, as it was his business to bring up the rear of the safari and clear all stragglers before him. One of the donkeys finally gave out, and although his load was taken off, was unable to walk any further. The Headman, however, was not to be defeated, so sending on to me for half a dozen porters, he tied the donkey’s legs together, put a pole between them, and hoisting him aloft on the men’s shoulders, had him borne in triumph to camp. It reminded me of the final stage of the old man and the ass.

We reached Kavai about midday where we found some salty waterholes in the otherwise dry bed of the river from which this camping place takes its name. Game, similar to what we had seen in the surrounding areas, with the addition of gerenuk, abounded. From Kavai we marched on to a place called Lungaya and on the way had a most exciting and tragic adventure. B. was feeling a little better and we were all riding together at the head of the safari, when suddenly, just after we had crossed over the dry river bed of the Lungaya River, we saw a huge, solitary elephant stalk out of the trees which grew very thick along its banks, and stand in a threatening attitude directly in our path, some 50 yards away.

As he was alone and looked very vicious, I at once concluded that this solitary rover was a “rogue” and therefore a dangerous beast, and I was further confirmed in my rogue theory by the fact that he had only one tusk. He had probably lost the other in a mighty encounter with some rival bull, who defeated him and driven him out of the herd. As he showed every intention of charging us, we hastily dismounted and covered him with our rifles. Just as he began to make for us I called on Mrs. B. to fire first, so she let drive at him with her .450 rifle, which struck him heavily. We then all fired at the oncoming monster, on which he turned and, staggering off a short distance, fell heavily among some dense bushes, which completely hid him from our sight. I ran forward, hoping that I might be able to give him a finishing shot, but when I got to within 10 yards of where he lay, I found that I could not get through the thick bushes among which he had fallen.

The others had by this time taken up their positions on a high rock, from the top of which they could catch glimpses of his huge body. They shouted to me to come back quickly as the elephant was getting up. At the same instant I heard a terrific commotion going on among the bushes, so, without waiting to see what it was all about, I turned and made heavy strides for the shelter of a rock, having no desire to be trampled to pieces in that dense undergrowth, where there was little chance for me and every chance for the elephant.

From our position on the rock we saw the elephant trot off through the thick bush, apparently not much hurt. He was more or less concealed from our view but he seemed to be making for the tail end of the safari which was still some distance away. I told Mrs. B. to remain at this sport, as it was a comparatively safe place on the edge of the thicket, with the huge rock close by in case of need. I also ordered Abbudi to remain with her, and guard her from all danger until we returned.

B. and I then mounted our horses and then rode back to protect the rest of the safari in case the elephant should make an attack. We soon got in among a thick belt of bush into which the elephant had disappeared and here we dismounted and marched cautiously on foot, leaving the horses with the syces.  The Headman who was coming along with some donkeys, shouted out to us that the elephant had just passed him and he was afraid it was going to attack another batch of men and donkeys which were following close behind. We therefore pushed on as rapidly as possible in the track plainly taken by the wounded beast.

All at once, just as we were in the midst of a very dense bit of thicket, the elephant loomed up close to our front and with outspread ears, charged straight at B., who was a couple of paces away to my right. As he came on, he viciously flapped his enormous ears back to his sides, and just as he did this I fired full at his head where it joins the trunk. Although this did not knock him down, it providentially caused him to swerve off a yard or two from B. in the direction of Abdi, the Somali gun-bearer who now caught his eye. The terrified man made a dive for safety but got caught up in the thicket and I fully expected to see him crushed to death before my eyes.

I tore open the breech of my rifle with all the speed I could muster, wondering if I would have time to get another bullet into the elephant before he was on the Somali. Just as his head got level with me, I rammed the cartridge home. Threw the rifle to my shoulder and in doing so almost touched his towering flank as he raced past in pursuit of the gun-bearer. At the moment that he reached out his trunk to dash Abdi to the ground, I let him have a slanting shot, which so upset him that he merely knocked off the man’s puggari (hat) and crashed away into the bush without doing us any damage. Hardly waiting for the jungle to close on him I gave chase, for I feared that the infuriated animal might come up with the safari again and kill somebody. As I rushed after him I called loudly to the gun-bearers to follow me but they apparently had had such a terrible fright that none of them ventured out of their hiding place, but I continued the hunt alone, expecting to be joined by them at any moment.

My Indian Syce Asa Ram

None of them turned up, however, and I had the greatest difficulty in following the trail, as the ground was very dry and hard and I had to depend entirely upon finding a drop of blood here and there on the leaves and branches against which the elephant brushed as he forced his way along. He made a tremendous circle and for a full hour in this way I tracked him, slowly and painfully through the thick jungle, never knowing the moment when I might suddenly come upon him unawares.

At last the trail led me to the line of the safari again and my fears lest he should attack some of the men in his infuriated tempter seemed justified. In confirmation of this I was met just then by a small party of porters, headed by a couple of askaris, who were coming out to look for my dead body. The gun-bearers, instead of following me as they ought to have done, had returned to the safari and reported me crushed to death by the elephant. The moment I came into view they ran to me and gave me the appalling news that the elephant hard charged the caravan a little further on, and had killed Mrs. B. and also my horse and my syce.

The state of consternation and horror into which this threw me can well be imagined. Without waiting for further details I rushed on to find out if this terrible calamity could really have happened. A short distance further on I met B. who had returned to look after his wife when I took up the spoor. I inquired anxiously as to what had occurred, and he considerably relieved my feelings that the worst part of the catastrophe had not happened, as Mrs. B. was safe, although she had an exceedingly narrow and lucky escape. He said, however, that it was unfortunately true that my horse had been killed and my syce had been injured. This bit of news was bad enough, but it might have been infinitely worse. We then set out the spot where poor Aladdin had fallen. On the way we met Mrs. B. who was much astonished to see me, as she also had been told that I was dead. From her I heard a full account of the disaster.

It appears that she remained for some time at the open spot where we had left her but after a while she became anxious and wanted to find out what was going on. So she started out on foot through the jungle, taking Abbudi with her. On the way, she came upon my syce and Aladdin, and told Asa Ram to follow on with the horse and ponies. Just as they got to the very thickest part of the jungle, where it was practically impossible to move except at a snail’s pace, out charged the elephant from the bushes not 10 yards away! As she had no rifle with her, she thought the best thing to do was to crouch down on the spot where she stood, hoping that the brute would not see her. My Indian syce, Asa Ram, stood close by, paralysed by fear, holding Aladdin tightly to the reins as if rooted to the ground. The infuriated elephant caught sight of my beautiful white Arab, and instantly made a lunge, knocked down the syce, who lay as one dead at his feet, and drove his tusk deep into poor Aladdin’s side.

At this moment, when the elephant was on the lookout for fresh victims, Jerogi, the Kikuyu syce, let the other ponies loose, and both he and they bolted off into the bush as fast as possible. Abbusi, remembering the emphatic instructions that I had given him to guard Mrs. B. suddenly seized her by the wrist, and wriggled off with her through the undergrowth to a place of safety. Well done, Abbusi, I salute you.

Aladdin appears to have been unable to get free of the syce until after the elephant had driven his tusk into him, but the moment he felt the thrust he dashed madly forward for some distance, leaving a stream of blood in his trail. In a very short time, his strength began to fail, and then he tottered in his stride, and eventually fell heavily on his side, stone dead. Thus, by his untimely end, Aladdin more than justified the extremely nervous dread which he had always shown when passing a bush or going through a thicket. His instinct, no doubt, told him of the many dangers which lurked there for his undoing on some unlucky day.

When we reached the open glade where poor Aladdin had fallen, and I saw him lying there lifeless before me, I realized that I had lost not only a faithful steed but also a dumb friend who had taken part with me in many an exciting chase. Determined to avenge his death, I started off again as soon as possible on the trail of the vicious rogue that had caused us so much anxiety and sorrow. We all joined the chase but I did not find the gun-bearers very keen on the hunt as the elephant had given them a very bad fright.

Before leaving Aladdin, I had noticed, on ungirthing the saddle, that a stirrup leather was missing from the side on which the elephant had gored him. Thinking that it was probably lying on the ground at the spot where Aladdin was charged, I sent the syce, Asa Ram, and his askari to look for it. As they did not returned, we walked ourselves in the direction they had taken, and on rounding a bit of thick jungle, discovered the pair calmly sitting safe in the shelter of a big tree. They had evidently decided to wait here until sufficient time had passed, and then to return and tell me that the stirrup leather could not be found. The moment they saw us, they made a wild bolt for cover, but I shouted to them to come back as they were discovered.

I could not, however, find it in my heart to blame them very much for not wishing to venture out into anywhere near the elephant again, and for all we knew he might still be in the vicinity. After all, it was only half an hour since Asa Ram had such a very narrow escape. We all took up the elephant’s spoor and scouted cautiously through the thick bush into which he had disappeared, finding it extremely difficult to keep on his track. He doubled and twisted through the jungle in the most perplexing manner, probably not knowing where he was going. Eventually, however, Abbudi came running up in great excitement and told us that he had seen the elephant standing up in a path close by, facing us as if he was about to charge again.

I at once ordered everyone to keep well out of the way as I did not wish any further tragedies and, taking the .450 rifle, I set off in the direction Abbudi pointed out. I considered that if I went alone, I would have a better chance of getting in a fatal shot than if others were present about whose safety I felt anxious. I was quite anxious enough about my own safety as I walked steadily and stealthily against the wind, using the utmost care in getting through the tangled jungle so as to not make too much noise.

At last I peeped cautiously through the green leaves of a great tree whose branches hung to the ground and saw the huge beast confronting me not 15 yards ahead. The sight of him brought me to a rigid halt, and peering more intently, I saw that he was not standing, but lying down at full length on his side. He was not dead – as his flanks were gently heaving up and down. At least I thought this was the case, so I put two more shots into him to prevent him from doing any further damage. Then I went up to him and called to my companions to come up, as he was stone head. They arrived on the spot. It was Mrs. B.’s elephant and she was placed on his back in triumph and also photographed.

We knew one tusk was broken off short, but on getting out the other we saw that it was absolutely decayed away and in a putrid mass for over 18 inches inside the skull. This must have given him frightful agony and was no doubt the reason why he was so fierce and attacked us unprovoked earlier in the morning.  We also had the two feet cleaned out, which is by no means an easy matter but as the natives like the sinewy flesh there was some competition for this task. It was very lucky that this whole adventure did not end more disastrously. In fact, I was glad we got off so lightly, as the elephant barely missed killing both B. and Mrs. B. by a fluke while the syce and Somali gun-bearer also had very narrow escapes. Fortunately Asa Ram was not injured, although the elephant had actually stood over him when it knocked him down. His nerves were quite shattered and for hours afterwards his eye almost stood out of his head and had a startled, half-frenzied look in them which showed plainly that he had had a terrible fright.

We retired early that night, for we were all tired out after the trials and adventures of the day.

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