The Elephants Are Going Mad
Date: Tuesday, November 21 2006
Nov. 19, 2006. 10:15 AM
We're not going anywhere," my driver, Nelson Okello, whispered one morning last June, the two of us sitting in a jeep just after dawn in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda. We'd stopped to observe what appeared to be a "rogue" elephant grazing in a patch of tall savannah grasses.
This elephant, however, soon proved to be not a rogue — a young bull elephant that has been banished after making an overly strong power play against the dominant male of his herd — but part of a cast of at least 30. The ground vibrations registered just before the emergence of the herd from the surrounding trees and brush. We sat watching the elephants cross the road before us, seeming, for all their heft, so light on their feet.
Then, from behind a thicket of acacia trees directly off our front left bumper, a huge female emerged. "The matriarch," Okello said softly. There was a small calf beneath her, freely foraging and knocking about within the secure cribbing of four massive legs.
After 15 minutes or so, Okello started inching the jeep forward, revving the engine, trying to make us sound as beastly as possible. The matriarch, however, was having none of it, holding her ground, the fierce white of her eyes as bright as that of her tusks. Although I pretty much knew the answer, I asked Okello if he was considering trying to drive around.
"No," he said, raising an index finger for emphasis. "She'll charge. We should stay right here."
I'd have considered it a wise policy even at a more peaceable juncture in the course of human-elephant relations. In recent years, however, those relations have become markedly more bellicose.
Just two days before I arrived, a woman was killed by an elephant in Kazinga, a nearby fishing village. Two months earlier, a man was fatally gored by a young male elephant at the northern edge of the park.
African elephants use their long tusks to forage through dense jungle . . .
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 22, 2006]