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"There were at least 60 or 80 of them," Winter yelled. "Crikey, that was a close one."
Back in the tent, I gingerly removed six needle-sharp thorns from the soles of my bare feet. In the excitement, I hadn't even felt them penetrate. Somehow it was difficult to regain interest in the Tolstoy short story I had been reading.
Our final safari camp was at Meru National Park, beyond the Nyambeni Range east of Isiolo. The lads had pitched the tents at the edge of a wooded stream, far off the main roads of the park. Vervet and colobus monkeys festooned the trees, watching owlishly as Masamba, our worthy mpishi, whipped up another three-star supper. Meru, with its weird, two-trunked doum palms and strange red outcroppings—decomposed lava boulders covered with red sandy soil—is excellent country for elephant-watching and, until recently, for rhinos as well. On the road in we met with Denis Zaphiro, an old hunting buddy of both Winter and Ernest Hemingway, and stopped to hear his appraisal of the elephant and rhino situation at Meru. Zaphiro, a lean, gray-haired Englishman, appeared particularly scholarly when he put on his glasses to read the park map. Plenty of elephants, he told us, but only one with decent ivory. Rhinos, too, but they were up in the red hills, off the good roads, and with all the rain we'd been having it was very difficult to get to them.
"Those three white rhinos that were pranged up here last fall were killed by a group that included a game scout," Zaphiro told us. "A Somali who'd recently been transferred to Meru from down south. I had a personal stake in those kifaru—I helped in procuring them from Natal." Zaphiro and his clients, an American couple from Ohio, were heading up to the Matthews Range in the north-central part of the country for a three-week horse and camel safari. We wished them all a hearty kwaheri.
"Quite a lad, old Denis," said Winter later. "He house-sat for us while I was in England last year having my wounded foot filleted after my client accidentally plugged it with a .375. The rotter ate up all my good chutney and my costly English marmalade, not to mention drinking a whole case of Scotch whisky. Still, we all love him, and after all he's but a growing boy."
Next day we paid a call on Kenya's surviving white rhinos, which had been imported from Natal and are so docile tourists can pet them. There were three of them, a nearly full-grown male, a juvenile cow and an infant male. A zebra-striped bus unloaded a group of chattering Germans, who proceeded to surround the three rhinos, petting their mud-caked hides, stroking the heavy frontal horn of the big male and posing for fake matador shots—windbreakers sweeping in clumsy ver�nicas as the camera shutters buzzed.
Once again we were awed by the enormous fecundity of the wildlife. Everywhere we drove in the vastness of the park we saw young—from baby weaverbirds and red-billed quelea to 10-foot-tall infant giraffes. Climbing into the redclay hills, the Toyota's deeply lugged tires slip-sliding as if in grease, we came upon a herd of elephants. Two young bulls were fighting, their trunks entwined, small tusks poking at one another's shoulders, slamming their bodies together with the sound of toppling trees. "We'd best not get too close," Winter said. "They could turn on us." Just then, from behind a tangle of low trees, a big bull with one tusk emerged and spread his ears. Winter gunned the motor and we slowly slid away. Then, as we rounded a curve, Lambat called from the open rear hatch of the truck.
"Twende, twende! Let's go! He's coming!"
"Oh, sugar!" Bill gritted, speeding up once again. But Lambat was laughing: he'd fooled us.
"You'll do that once too often, my fine young man," Winter told him. "And then an elephant will really be coming, and I won't believe you, and we're all kufa."