Stories from the Kruger Park

Every year, Koosie, every year we warns the tourists. Don’t get out of your vehicles. You can’t cuddle a leopard. You can’t caress a cheetah. Elephants don’t want you to pat them.
You can’t believe how dumb these tourist are. Every year—every bloody year—fifty or sixty get themselves killed and eaten. Mostly through their own stupidity, but if you ask me, the private game parks let one or two of their guests get killed each year. They think it’s good for tourism. Makes visiting more exciting. My friend Jan who works at one of these – and no, I won’t tell you which one – told me when this domkop tourist heard lions walked between the bungalows at night, he tied and gagged his wife and left her out.
Nee, she wasn’t eaten. The lioness got him.
Could he sue the lodge? Nee, man! Everyone signs that they goes at their own risk. I’ve seen a lion take a tourist or two in my time. And nee, I didn’t shoot the lion. Why should I? We got too many tourists anyway.
So on this day, there’s a pair of lions eating a springbok and I’m doing my rounds in my jeep. First I have to remind a dof to put his head inside his car. He’s a metre away and there are cubs too. Then there’s this teenager, maybe fourteen, kneeling by the side of the road with his proud parents watching from the car. An’ he’s aiming his camera at a black mamba. I shouts, ‘If you want to get rid of your kid, don’t do it here.’ I shouted to make the snake go away. Man, they were mad at me for spoiling their photo.
Anyway, there I was having the worst day of my life but at last sunset was coming. Just one more hour till I’d be off duty. Just as I’m telling myself it can’t get worse, the road ahead of my jeep is blocked by a huge male elephant lying on its side.
Well, I’m on one side of this elephant and there’s a jeep on the other side, and I’m reversing to find another route to get back to the lodge. Meanwhile I’m indicating to the driver of the other car to reverse too, when—knock me over—she gets out and starts walking towards the elephant. This woman in beige slacks and a white ironed blouse and khaki bush shoes walks up to this elephant like they have an appointment. Man, I tell you she wasn’t even as tall as his shoulder.
Now this I know, Koosie. The elephant lies on its side to sleep. It lies down close to midnight. It is a late-night sleeper. And here I was at six o’clock. In the afternoon. That elephant was not sleeping.
I checks the skin. Firm and healthy. I checks the tusks – maybe thirty years old. Not old enough to be dying. So why—I asks myself—why is this elephant lying down.
No one believes this story Koosie, but I swear it is true.
That woman walks up to the elephant. The elephant looks at her as if it’s been waiting for her. It lifts a front leg. The woman smooths her hand over the pad of its foot, stroking round and round, jiggling, making soft noises like you make for a kid with a temperature, and then—I swears this is true--she dislodges a huge clump of thorns. I recognised what it was, of course. Buffalo tree thorns. The ones that zigzag and you can never get thrm off.
The elephant waves its great trunk as the woman waggles the clump this way and that to detach it from his sole and when it comes off he goes hhrumphh – but not too loud, and the tip of his trunk flickers, but that’s all.
Ag, Koosie, I never seen anything like it. I expected the elephant to bash her with its trunk. I was sure it would kill her, but no. Thorn out. Elephant stands up. Puts trunk around woman and they stand there, like lovers, while the sun sets and the moon rises.
Who is this woman, you want to know. They call her the elephant whisperer. When elephants need help they whisper, and she comes.
Do I believe it?
Ag, nee, Koosie. I don’t believe a word of it, even though I watched the whole scene from beginning to end with these eyes you see in my head.