We pump our irrigation water from the Zambezi River and the clearing where the pump house is situated also serves as our boat launching site. We are not the only ones who use the narrow, winding and bumpy road that makes its way through the forest to the pump house — we also share it with elephants, who make use of it mostly in the evenings, when they need to drink after a thirsty day in the sun. If we happen to both be on the road at the same time we will stop the vehicle and let them pass before proceeding and it is usually a civilised affair.
Late one afternoon Piet received a call from the pump house attendant; one of the motors was making a strange noise and he had to go there to see what was wrong. Sarel was away on leave at the time so we were dog-sitting his Jack Russell puppy Benji, who jumped onto Piet’s shoulders, delighted at the chance to go for a ride.
About half way to the river Piet heard the unmistakable sound of elephants breaking branches and then saw about 20 elephants lumbering along ahead of him, some on the road and a few scattered among the trees. He stopped and waited for a few minutes until thought the road was clear before slowly continuing, Benji trembling with excitement on his shoulders.
As they rounded the next corner Piet realised not all the elephants had moved on; there was a large cow, young calf in tow, standing on the side of the road and she was not pleased with him being so close to her child. It was too late for him to stop and reverse, so his only option was to dash past her and hope for the best. By this time Benji was beside himself with excitement, growling and whimpering, his sharp little claws digging into Piet’s shoulders. As they drew alongside the cow she thrust her trunk out, almost into the open window, and bellowed.
All hell broke loose: Benji scrambled down to the floor between Piet’s feet, howling and sobbing, the elephant continued bellowing and Piet, unable to work the foot pedals, yelled at Benji to move out of the way as the vehicle skidded forward out of reach.
It was only once he reached the relative safety of the pump house, heart racing and hands shaking that Piet noticed the dreadful stench – Benji had lost control of his bodily functions, down the back of Piet’s neck, along the front of his shirt, on the floor, on the pedals, on the seat! Understandably, the pump attendant kept his distance during the repairs.
It was a long time before we could persuade Benji to go for a ride with us again.