SI Vault
Robert F. Jones
May 29, 1978
Continuing his gunless safari, the author encounters a 12-year-old poacher, visits with Joy Adamson and is nearly trampled by a herd of elephants
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May 29, 1978

North To Naibor Keju

Continuing his gunless safari, the author encounters a 12-year-old poacher, visits with Joy Adamson and is nearly trampled by a herd of elephants

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On our final day we drove down to the Tana River. Buffalo herds browsed the high grass; two male giraffes battled on a ridge, slamming their heads like sledgehammers into one another in search of a knockdown punch; blue-legged Somali ostriches wobbled flat out across the prairie, their gray puffballs of young scooting to keep up. In a hippo pool a family of the rotund, ill-tempered river horses blew and yawned, then watched us with their rotary ears twitching before sinking silently back into the slimy green depths.

The Tana was in spate. A mountain of roaring, red-brown water crashed down Adamsons' Falls ( Meru is the country where Elsa was found and later released). A big crocodile basked in the sun on the bank across the way. We sat on the slotted rocks beside the falls—vertical jointing, black and brown, ocher and beige, as the chocolate river poured past.

"Wouldn't it be something to see a drowned elephant come tumbling down through these falls?" Winter said. "It happens, you know. Giraffes, too. A hell of a sight. I know. I was washed down a falls like these some years ago up in the Mukogodo country, where Lambat comes from. A place called The Crocodile's Jaws. Took a swim and got caught in the rip. Over I went. How I lived through it I still can't figure, but all I picked up were a few nasty scratches. Ah yes, I was a ndume in those days, Bwana, a real bull. Now I'm finished, like old Nyngao. Old. Getting fat from lying around in hospitals having my bones plucked out. Mguu mbaya—a bad leg, thanks to that .375. But I wouldn't change a day of it. Not a minute. It was a good life while it lasted out here, with the hunting and the tough oldtimers and the country even tougher. Think of all the good men who loved this country, black and white alike. Old Nyama Yangu. Karamoja Bell. Richard Meinertzhagen. Robert Foran. Your own Hemingway and Ruark. Now they're all gone, they're finished, na kwisha kufa like old Nyngao."

A yellow and blue agama lizard crept out on a rock to bask in the heavy-hitting sun; as if in some strange counterbalance, the crocodile across the way slid into the roiling water, out of sight.

"But maybe the hunting will come back," Winter went on. "The government seems serious about preserving the herds. The World Bank loaned them $3 million to beef up their anti-poaching patrols, and no one in the government today seems deeply into the trophy or ivory trade, not with their coffee shambas paying off the way they are. Surely they can see that it wasn't the sport hunting that was decimating the herds. Yes, I think that the attitude is definitely changing for the better. No country has dedicated as much of its land and income, proportionately, to wildlife as Kenya. It's important to keep that in mind. Your country doesn't. Britain doesn't. On balance, Kenya has done a remarkable job in keeping its wildlife alive—when you consider the strong pressures on an underdeveloped nation to gratify its people. And certainly we've seen that the game can come back in a hurry, given some protection and a decent amount of rainfall.

"Yes, maybe the hunting will come back," Winter continued. "At least the bird shooting and plains game. Buffalo seem strong enough to take a little pressure, and certainly there are plenty of lions. The thing about sport hunting is that everyone benefits from it: the government in license fees; the professional hunters in a steady living; the tribes whose lands you hunt get their fair share of the client's money for every animal killed; marauding animals are eliminated at no government expense; and the client himself has the adventure of a lifetime. Hunters in the field report poachers, and the Game Department can certainly use all the help it can get. Yes, logically it would be good to reopen the hunting, perhaps with seasons on certain species and with a total ban on the killing of rhino, small, ivoried elephants and the spotted cats. Let's hope so, anyway."

I uttered a heartfelt "Amen" to that.

Leaving Meru, with the tents struck for the last time and the lorry following, we spotted a solitary bull elephant browsing under a scarred, bulbous baobab tree. It is my fantasy that baobab trees, which elephants love to gouge mercilessly with their tusks, are the reincarnations of dead poachers, doomed to stand forever under the hot African sun, getting punched and ripped by their erstwhile victims. This elephant had good ivory—60 or 70 pounds to the tusk, Winter estimated. But he had a bad hind leg—a mguu mbaya just like Winter's, maybe from a .375 bullet as well. He flapped and wagged his trunk at us but could not flee, much less attack.

We left him under his baobab tree, a fitting omen for the "reentry blues" I would be feeling soon, back in the world of towns and shops and jetliners and people.

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