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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2020 (89) > ELEPHANTS AT THE SHARP END:


life and death at a waterhole

The daily challenges of survival in the African bush are intensified under the harsh conditions of an extreme drought. Yet, as ever, with the promise of rain to come, the circle of life finds a way to keep turning.

My heart sinks as our vehicle rounds the corner. A large grey object lies slumped, like some discarded mattress, across our track. No need to guess. It’s just 48 hours since we arrived in Hwange National Park and already this sorry sight has become a familiar part of the landscape: termite mound, camelthorn tree, dead elephant… Nobody speaks but I can sense the tension among my companions as we approach. This is grim. Any second now, we’ll be holding our noses. Or worse still, perhaps the animal’s struggles aren’t over. Perhaps it’s just fallen, unable to rise. We’ll be helpless witnesses to its final agonies. “It’s dead”, confirms our guide Dickson Dube – somewhat to my relief – as we pull up alongside. I look closer. The modest size, small tusks and residual hairiness suggest this individual is no more than ten years old. And it’s clear from the gaunt frame – leathery hide sagging like a collapsed tent from spine and pelvis – that it has died of starvation: another victim of this brutal drought.

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