Mastodon Maelstrom          - 23/ 10/ 2012      <--Prev : Next-->

HeeHoo and I always get a yearning to visit Hwange Game Reserve at this time of the year. Its a good time to see the birds and animals as the vegetation is sparse, however we were just not prepared for the surreal scenes that awaited us.

We arrived at 2.30 on Friday at Main Camp, it was dry yes, very definitely, but we had seen it dry before year after year at this time. However something was different this year, something intrinsically different.

The twenty kilometers surrounding main camp, en route to Nehimba Exclusive Photographic Safari Camp, was a frenzy of elephants. There were hundreds, nay thousands, all excruciatingly thin, all in a frantic search for water, that most precious of all commodities.

Worse still, there were more dead and dying elephants than I have ever seen in all my years of game viewing. Almost every natural pan was dry, and there were giant carcasses everywhere.

The vegetation too, was reminiscent of a lunar landscape. Not a single tree or shrub had been spared, they were torn up, striped bare of all bark, not a green leaf to be seen anywhere, just a total, desolate, devastation.

I know its Mother Nature's way of keeping down the population, I know the National Parks and Wildlife folk work tirelessly to keep as many pumps going as they possibly can, but this was a natural disaster of vast proportions as far as one could ascertain.

We ventured further afield along the main road towards Robbins and Sinamatella, and were faced with further ravages to the park, fires had also taken their toll, and the normal abundant plains game was just not to be seen. A few desultory herds of zebra, a couple of giraffe listlessly searching the tops of the Mopani trees for anything, just anything, to fill their bellies. Very few impala, not a single wildebeest, a lone Sable as skittish as the day was long.

But it was the pressure of the vast families of skeletal elephant that scared us the most. The poor creatures had to walk so far away from the existing waterholes that they were exhausted and starving, and yet it was imperative that they returned every twenty-four hours to the overburdened waterholes.

As we neared Nehimba there were even more of the great behemoths, racing from dry pan to dry pan frantically. Those pans that were pumping were absolutely clogged with eles and sadly they were fighting in panic for that most precious commodity on all the earth.

HeeHoo and I are no strangers to elephant behavior, we have undertaken ten Hwange Game Counts where we have observed these gentle giants for countless hours. Their behavior in normal years has always been impeccable. A new group arriving at a waterhole will usually stand patiently waiting it's turn at the pan, issuing the famous "elephant rumble" to advise the elephants at the pan that they are waiting so "hurry up".

Courteous, deferential, polite and gracious, as thirsty as they may be, usually the entire family would wait until the pan had been vacated by the previous herd, but not today! Running at full tilt, and believe me an elephant can move pretty fast when he is thirsty, these poor dehydrated beasts, exhausted from their weary food search over hundreds of kilometers, would barge their way into the pan, knocking each other over, shrieking in rage, squealing in frustration and desperate thirst.

We had never heard or seen anything like it before. Even the buffalo were nibbling the new acrid shoots on the trees, where buffalo are not browsers they are grazers !!

Every natural pan we passed was totally dry, or a giant mud seep, where the carcasses of elephants had died an agonizing death, stuck firmly in the treacherous mud. The Hwange operators told us tales of lion attacking weak and debilitated elephant in their dying throes, phenomena seldom heard of in Hwange.

Their giants skins hanging grey, dull and lifeless, their eyes filled with white mucous, herd after desperate herd, moms, dads, babies all trudging, running, frantically seeking their lives' blood.

This happened ten years ago in the early nineties, when yet another crippling drought ravaged Matabeleland, thousands of animals died an agonizing death, by dehydration and starvation. And as the pressure of the elephants descended on the few working waterholes, so the plains game, the cats and the small mammals are driven away by the frantic multitudinous mass of elephants.

Fortunately further south east in the park the operators, Friends of Hwange and National Parks, are furiously putting down boreholes to try and create water points in areas where there is still a little grazing, but sadly not enough and not in time.

At the delightful photographic safari camp where we were lucky enough to be staying, the swimming pool was a focal point as countless elephant came in their droves, to drink the fresh water from the pool! A great entertainment for the guests but a tragic indication of the desperation of these great grey giants.

The Loxodonta Africana, Africa's jewel, so special and yet seriously under the threat of yet another of Matabeleland's horrendous and devastating droughts.

Contact this loyal band of dedicated conservationists if you would like to help "Friends of Hwange Trust" - visit the Trust's website at

Next week I will tell you about Nehimba, Hwange's best-kept secret, an exclusive photographic Safari Camp with a great big future.