In July of this year I headed out to the Zambezi Valley in pursuit of a tuskless elephant, why tuskless? It is a cheaper hunt and doesn't entail any trophy fees or taxidermy costs and any cow elephant hunt is considered much more dangerous than a bull elephant hunt as you are dealing with herds that contain young calves, also the number of tuskless elephants are artificially high due to hunting pressure arising from the days of the ivory trade and recently poaching . After a couple of days travel including a 12 hour drive I was happy but tired when I reached the camp on lake Kariba. We immediately went out to sight my rifle which was an open sighted much used and loved CZ. 375, ate and then went to bed.
The first day we got up at 4.30am ate a quick breakfast and headed out to check the vehicle tracks for fresh spoor, after a 3 or 4 hours of tracking in the jesse (think really thick thorny bush with visibility in places down to few yards) we came up to the herd. Even though we were within spitting distance of the cows you could often not make the orientation of the animal the elephants seeking the thickest cover for their midday siesta. After we sneaked in and out surveying each cow it was established that there was no tuskless present.
This routine went on for 6 days, the number of elephants is staggering and we were always chasing one herd or another all day as they came and went from the lake to drink, one morning we dragged a tree behind us to eliminate any tracks for a distance of a few miles, parked up while the trackers and the PH smoked a cigarette and went back. Within that time of no more that 20 minutes several herds had crossed and the chase was on, it took us five hours to catch up with them and at the last minute the fickle wind betrayed our presence and they stampeded. The wind ruined many stalks, the most disappointing one was after 27kms of walking in the intense heat we got into a herd with 3 tuskless which started to feed towards us, feeling confident I kept close to the PH and then all of the sudden the breeze was on our backs and the trunks all went up in the air and they departed for Zambia.
On the second to last day the PH said that we were wasting our time chasing these herds around Lake Kariba and he knew of another area where he was confident we could find a tuskless.On the last day we were up at 3.30 am, after a quick breakfast we were off. We drove for 4 hours until we reached a large dry riverbed where we disembarked. The terrain here was totally different, gentle rolling hills with large trees, it almost felt like england on a hot day. I thought how easy this would be until the PH commented that that the herd we tracking would be heading towards some of the thickest riverine bush that he knew.
After an hour or so tracking we hit a solid wall of bush which we had to force our way through, we pushed on and on sometimes crossing and recrossing the same river until we had to climb up a vertical bank on our hands and knees. When we got to the top of the bank we had to crawl under a bush to a place we could stand up, unbeknown to use we had just crawled right under an elephants nose. As we stood up the PH commented "how the f##k are we going to play this", and I could see his point, above the thick bush we could see the tops of elephant back spread out but with no way of identifying them.
What happened next was quite comical, as we stood looking surveying the elephants, the elephant that we failed to see suddenly screamed in our ears, I turned round quickly in case it came on through the bush, tracker no 2, the game scout and the trainee PH suddenly ran off as well as the herd. Those guilty of running were given an almighty bollacking and I felt that we would never get my tuskless. So in low spirits we started on our long walk back through the bush, when we got back to the open ground we suddenly heard elephants feeding close by, as we sneaked in they got our wind, shortly after we got into another herd but once again the wind changed and they made off.
Within minutes of walking we found yet another set of tracks belonging to a herd and we set of, they started to lead us back into thick scrub and the PH held a conference, it was decided to leave the 2nd tracker, trainee and game scout behind whilst we tried to close in. Progress was slow, they were feeding really close but we still could not see them, on and on we went desperately trying not to make a sound and we could hear the rumbling noise of elephants communicating along with the noise of breaking branches.
Eventually we could see the outline of several bodies and the PH whispered there was a tuskless amongst them, the wind changed again and they started to run, luckily the tuskless ran across my front from left to right and I shipped a solid straight through her shoulder, upon receiving the bullet she quickly spun around to run back the way she had come, as her head came round I placed another bullet through her brain felling her instantly, the two shots were within a few seconds each other. We moved back in order not to provoke a charge as the matriarch was going rather mental and trying to locate us by running back and forth to get our wind whilst screaming.
Eventually the herd departed and we approached the tuskless cow, elephants are huge and even this young female was massive, it's hard to describe my feelings, I felt no regret and I was very happy with my own performance, but it felt strange to achieve something which I had wanted to do for years but I was happy. I cut the tail off as sign of ownership and we started to make our way back to the vehicle, we had no GPS with us and no one was quire sure where we were in relation to the vehicle , imagine my surprise when after 20 yds we came to a river bank overlooking the landcruiser .After several beers we headed of to inform the local village of the elephants whereabouts and then set off on the long journey back to camp, en-route we stopped for more beers from a mud hut and some dubious looking refined cane sugar (local moonshine) I was tight by the time we got back.
After a late night I had to arise early with headache to make my way back to Bulawayo.
I thought it would be worthwhile mentioning a few words about the trackers, to watch an native African track is a treat within itself. Many times I could not see a single sign of a track but day after day they successfully tracked elephant and never failed to come up with them, without their skill set I would never of got my elephant. I asked the trackers how did they learn their trade and they explained from a young age they would have to look after the family cattle and track animals that went missing, which would often be a result of a predator doing it daily from a young age with guidance from their elders it becomes second nature to read signs that most Europeans would never see or correctly interpret.
Sunset on Lake Kariba
Following elephant tracks down a dry riverbed
The beginning of the thick riverine bush
Tuskless on the ground
A sign of ownership!
One of the tusked variety