Tourism and Conservation in action
Author: Andries Alberts, Game Warden of Bushmanland and the Nya Nya conservation area. Find out more here.
The Nyae Nyae Conservancy in northeastern Namibia is 9000 square kilometers in size and allow the local Ju’hoansi bushmen to utilize natural resources in the area, in an attempt from the Government to give ownership to indigenous communities. A conservation effort that works well. (Local communities also benefit largely from safaris going throught these areas.)
Unfortunately, in January 2002, a local woman was killed by a rogue elephant bull. She and three other young girls were collecting veld food a kilometer away from their village, !Auru, when they spotted three elephant bulls in front of them. The girls fled, leaving the elderly woman hiding behind a big tree. As they turned to call for her, they saw a fourth, one-tusked bull behind her. But it was too late. The elephant picked her up with his trunk and flung her into the air, braking her neck. It then ripped off both her legs and crushed her chest.
Nature Conservation staff collected the remains and permission was granted to destroy the animal. And so the hunt started.
Fourteen days after the incident, the men caught sight of three elephant bulls close to the actual spot where the woman had been killed. And in a moment of absolute fear, they saw a fourth bull charge, crushing trees in its path as it charged. The bull was brought down with a single shot from the .458 caliber rifle. Deciding to return the next day to collect the one tusk, the men returned to Tsumkwe, the main village in the area.
That night, the spirit of the shot elephant appeared to one of the trackers, in the shape of a man. In an angry voice he told the tracker that he will hide his tracks and hunt those whom shot him.
The next morning, due to the belief and fear of the spirit-world, mutiny caused half of the hunting party to remain at the station. Upon arrival at the spot where the bull had been shot, it was discovered, with even more superstitious circumstances, that the elephant had gotten up during the night and was heading towards the Botswana border, which was close by.
Tracking the wounded elephant caused severe bodily pain as the heat and humidity of January drove the men into the ground, exhausted and tired. The first day, 45 km were covered, with no sight of the animal. And so to the next day, after 60 km of walking in deep sand with no water as that would weight down the men.
On the third day, a pick-up was used to “bundu bash”, following the tracks off-road with trackers running in front of the vehicle. Two extra spare wheels were taken along as the possibility of punctured tyres were a certainty.
After many kilometers of making good ground, the elephant was found to have walked onto a bed-rock slab, hiding its tracks from the men. Again, superstitious fear filled the men.
Eventually the tracks were found again, only to see the elephant heading from the open plains into very thick bush. It was not long before the vehicle came to a standstill, with an unbelievable four flat tyres at the same time. The men walked back to camp during the night and left the vehicle where it stood.
After that day, the hunting party decided to change from following the tracks with a pick-up, to the use of a 5 ton 4×4 truck, with much stronger, more impenetrable tyres. But, again the tracks were lost after an elephant breeding herd, 60 head strong, decided to walk over the tracks of the injured bull.
Desperately the men searched for any sign of the bull, but to no avail. Just as they were about to give up and return to their station, they spotted vultures circling above a thicket. Walking in a straight line, with the best tracker leading, they discovered another “spiritual” warning. A Black Mamba was seen “standing up” next to a tree and sliding into the branches right on the trail they were following. Now, the thought of the spirit hunting them, filled the minds of the men. Later they discovered that the vultures were savaging on a Blue Wildebeest carcass that Wild dogs had brought down during the night.
With no tracks to follow and with shell-shocked minds, the party decided to check all the watering holes in the area with the hope to find the bull utilizing the water to “cool” its wound. But to no avail.
As they visited the last watering hole, the furthest away from their station, the men decided to head back to their camp using an old, non-used cut line that was opened by the army many years ago. Unfortunately they got lost.
After hours of cursing and swearing, the party suddenly found themselves next to an unknown watering hole. And there, an elephant bull stood, spraying water over its head. Its one tusk and the blood on its head indicated the quarry they had been searching for.
This time they made sure, bringing down the bull with multiple rifles and successive shots. It was close to sunset when the men, again, decided to return the next morning in order to collect the tusk. But this time, the men eagerly chopped off the bull’s feet, as a guarantee that it would not get up again.
The myths surrounding the story were many. But the most commonly believed one was as follows. The woman that was killed had a husband, a witchdoctor, that had passed away a year earlier. Apparently it was he that returned in the shape of an elephant so that he could take his wife along to their ancestral home of eternity.
All I know, with certainty, is that the hunt was the most difficult and exhausting ever! Hopefully, it will never turn out in such a way again.