We had the privilege of witnessing the birth of a small elephant from a very short distance. It took some completely weird coincidences for us to be on the scene. But one after the other: The cornerstone was laid by dear Kurt Haas, Swiss and owner of Parrot Lodge in Bulawayo. When we explained to him our route and the intention to cross into Zambia near Mana Pools, he advised us to use the border post at Kariba. Chirundu, the major border post in the region, is on the axis from Lusaka to Harare. The road is crowded with large trucks. The border post at Kariba Dam Wall, on the other hand, is a bit more secluded near Kariba and it is a small border post. We were convinced by the idea and had it in mind.
The fridge provides 35 ° C
As soon as we reached the Eastern Highlands our fridge quit on La Rochelle the second day. No, it didn’t get out, it refused to work and stopped cooling. A local technician came by, checked the fridge for a leak in the gas line, and found none. However, he felt that the connection to fill the gas was a little loose. The correct gas was filled and pressure was restored within an hour. Now we had to keep our fingers crossed. We were able to enjoy cool drinks again after a short wait and also the next day the refrigerator was running perfectly. After a short discussion we decided to continue our way and drove to Mana Pools.
As soon as we arrived there, Sonja asked if Guido had adjusted the fridge. After the clear denial, the mouth corners went down and she reported 12 °C in the freezer and 15 °C in the cooler. The problem was back and we found ourselves on the Zambezi River, with daytime temperatures of 38 °C and no infrastructure. Shortly after, the two Dutchmen we had met in the Caprivi came around the corner. We gave away the perishable food that we could no longer prepare. Within a day, the temperature in the refrigerator rose to 35° C.
Off to Kariba
We got through the time well, because the two kept cooling drinks for us and we were still in possession of vegetables. Therefore, we were able to cook varied. Only the eternally warm water became annoying very soon. After three days, our previous booking had expired, we decided against an extension and left Mana Pools with the destination Kariba. There we wanted to contact the manufacturer and possibly find another technician who should examine the fridge again. According to Kurt’s advice, the problem with the fridge was the second factor that caused us to witness the birth. Why, we like to explain. We decided to stay at Warthogs Safari Camp, located on the lake, in the middle of nature. The reviews we found sounded very convincing.
Action at Warthogs Safari Camp
Wayne and Louisa, the owners and operators of the camp, are very warm people. Wayne does everything in his power to help his guests. When he heard about our problem, he immediately called his air conditioning technician and ordered him in. He was in front of our car 30 minutes later and unceremoniously took the fridge for a detailed check. Wayne and Guido contacted the South African manufacturer and within an hour Guido had a response to an email he had sent the day before. We now took a two-pronged approach. We tried to convince the manufacturer to exchange our just six months young device. If the mechanic would be successful in the meantime, we could cancel this exchange again.
The next morning it was clear that the problem must be in the internal pipes – those inside the insulation. The fridge recorded a drop in pressure overnight and even this young man, who Wayne said knew exactly what he was doing, couldn’t help us. Guido made good progress with the manufacturer. In the end, with Wayne’s help, a replacement was organized and we just had to be patient for a few days and wait for the refrigerator. Now the circle was closed.
First, we went swimming in the pool on a hot day when some bull elephants roamed the camp. We had failed to retreat to the bar area when two bulls came up to the pool to drink. Sonja was on the edge of the pool in the water and Guido was sitting on the edge of the pool out of the water when they both started drinking about 3 meters away and blowing into the water for fun and making bubbles. This was just to our liking and we enjoyed this encounter very much.
A visit of a herd and the birth of a small elephant
Now what happened was what we love so much and what gives life that very special magic. The next morning we knew that this would be the last day at the Warthogs. The next day we planned to drive to Harare to be able to receive our new fridge very early the following morning and return the broken one. In the course of the early afternoon we suddenly saw Wayne and Louisa coming to us. Grinning, they offered us to spend the next night in one of their safari tents with integrated bathroom and view of the plain and held out a key to us.
We were excited, inspected the tent, and were busy for the next hour putting our clothes and other things we needed in the tent. Then we packed up the camper and packed everything away so we were ready to go. Guido’s plan was to put the camper in front of the tent, when we realized that an approaching herd of elephants had already reached the edge of the camp. It was now too late and so we went back to the camper and put on our swim suits. After all, we had no idea what was about to happen shortly.
After refreshing ourselves in the pool, we left it, as the herd was roaming the camp in the meantime, and was feeding on the mopane trees near the pool. We noticed some commotion further back, at the tents above the campsites, but thought nothing of it. The first elephant reached the pool, then a second and there were more and more. They populated the meadow in front of the bar and once again it was fun to watch them. Part of the herd then slowly moved down to the plain and the much larger part of the herd was restlessly active near the tents.
Suddenly a loud trumpeting sounded and the herd got into a big commotion. We tried to see through the mopane trees what was going on, but could not make out anything special. The commotion grew and another guest had his binoculars with him and suddenly shouted excitedly that there was blood all over a cow elephant. We all looked at each other in disbelief and our synapses took a while to realize that we were witnessing a birth, in the middle of the camp.
Now nothing could stop us. We stalked into the mopane forest, daring to get as close as possible without endangering ourselves, and then a small elephant tumbled out of its mama. It remained lying on the ground and was very easy to see because of the silver skin surrounding it. The concert that followed was indescribable. The energy released by this herd was also very, very impressive. Within half a minute, the elephant cow and her newborn were encircled by the herd and no longer visible to us. The little one was greeted and we had tears in our eyes.
Guido realized early on that taking pictures with a cell phone at 20 meters through the mopane forest would be nothing. His cameras were all packed ready to go in the locked car, about 10 meters next to the herd. So close and yet unreachably far away. Destiny was sometimes very hard after all.
The situation is changing
Then suddenly the turn was approaching. The herd dispersed into the surrounding bush and retreated somewhat. The mother, the newborn and another elephant cow, we assume it was the older sister of the little one, stayed at the place of birth. We walked towards them in a big arc and got to the back of our car. Guido was hell-bent on taking a chance, explaining to Louisa that he was now going to tiptoe very slowly to the car, and then get the camera in the camper. No sooner said than done, he crept barefoot to the car, clad only in his wet swim trunks. He climbed under the bed and pried open the flap to pull out the telephoto lens and look for the matching body.
Sonja suddenly appeared behind him and he was glad to see her. The flap was actually a bit too tight with the bed closed to find all the stuff, but together we made it. After the camera was ready to go, we also took the opportunity to put on dry clothes. A short time later, we sneaked back to the others, and Guido took a seat on the floor with a big grin on his face. He started to take pictures of the young bull, which was about 40-45 minutes old by now. Not all the people in the camp could stand or sit still and so we all withdrew after a while and left them alone.
In the evening we reached the tent only over the plain, following a hippo path (We were brought by car to under our tent). The cow was with her calf in the immediate vicinity of our tent. We heard her throughout the evening trying to bury the placenta so as not to attract predators. She was lifting rocks and trying to dig a hole and she was relentless. The next morning they had moved on a few hundred meters and that gave us the opportunity to inspect the place more closely.
It was extremely exciting to see the individual locations and as we watched, the movie played out in front of our eyes. The placenta was still on the way, we saw where the little one was lying, where the herd had moved and again we were very moved. For Wayne and Louisa this experience was even greater than for us, because what happened meant nothing other than that the elephants felt safe in their camp – otherwise the cow would never have given birth there. Elephants can stop and halt incipient births if the environment does not suit them.
We left in the morning for Harare, exchanged fridges the next morning, and then left Zimbabwe for Zambia. If we then examine this experience for the fates, then a very complex picture emerges, where the usual distinctions just do not work. There was the clear hint from Kurt, then the failure of the fridge and without all these efforts we would never have stayed there so long. We had to be stranded in the Warthogs to be able to experience that. Life is great, isn’t it?