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Like a Yoyo
20 May 2005
by Sharon Pincott
So many ‘ups’ and ‘downs,’ I feel like a yoyo - with a weakening string.
Further family groups have appeared. This time at Kanondo. A four-year-old elephant with a not yet too tight neck snare. Another three elephants with partially severed trunks. An innocent little three-year-old with the most horrific leg snare.
I am sickened and disheartened.
The next day, I wait at Kanondo, hoping that the ‘P’ family, with mother "Priscilla" and little "Plucka" with the horrific leg snare, will arrive once again. The day before, little "Plucka", thin and thirsty, could put no weight on her foot, her lower leg hideously gashed and raw, repugnantly swollen from the tight wire - but it was too late in the day to dart.
And arrive again the ‘P’ family did - without "Priscilla" and "Plucka". I stayed on for hours afterwards. I kept hearing new hopeful rustles, and looked longingly into the bush. But they never appeared. Somewhere there had been a few drops of ill-timed rain. There was a rainbow in the sky. A three-quarter moon already risen. The sinking sun had turned to purple the heavy cloud in the western sky. I just could not imagine "Plucka" already dead. After sighting her snared for the first time just yesterday, that would be too cruel. But where were they? The family had stayed around the Kanondo area for the past 24 hours. The tuskless adult, "Precious", who was always close by "Priscilla", was there. Something was very wrong that "Priscilla" and "Plucka" did not arrive to drink with the others.
Tomorrow I will try again, praying for no vultures.
"Pooky" had been there, with mother "Paula", to lift my spirit just a little. Three years ago "Pooky", then a young baby of only a few months old, suffered a dreadful head snare. "A wire wrapped tight under a chin, up to the ear, culminating in a disgusting bow of wire on top of the head," I wrote at the time. Mercifully, that snare somehow managed to break off without our intervention, no doubt with assistance from "Paula". Today "Pooky", now a young lady with small tusks, has only a badly scared left ear in memory of the merciless ordeal that she endured, at the hands of some despicable person unknown. She is one of the ‘lucky’ ones.
The ‘W’ family appeared too. "Whole" is beginning to look somewhat better, seemingly recovering - finally - from her three-year-old son, "Wholesome’s", death from a strangling neck snare last August. She would likely have been pregnant at the time of his snaring, but now with sagging, empty breasts, she is clearly no longer so. She lost her son, probably an unborn baby - and she lost her mother. "Wendy", I must now concede, is dead. She, too, had looked so unwell at the time of her grandson’s cruel death. She has not been sighted since September of last year. I kept hoping and hoping. But I can hope no more.
25 May 2005
by Sharon Pincott
I tried again the next day, sitting alone at Kanondo waiting, hoping for injured "Plucka" to appear. It was too difficult to write, or read, or do anything other than wait. And the wait was long. At 4.40pm "Priscilla" appeared - without "Plucka". This was too much. Overcome by emotion, I watched "Priscilla" drink. She should not be without her youngest calf, and I imagined the worst. But at 4.50pm "Plucka", having difficulty walking now, appeared at the tree line. The wound was truly horrific. Without hesitation, I drove back to the Safari Lodge with reckless speed, to ring the darter. By then it was 5.00pm, the darter deciding that it was too late for him to get to Kanondo, prepare the darts required for mother and calf, and carry out the operation. It was, these days, getting quite dark by 6.00pm, and I cursed the onset of Winter with it’s shortened days.
I returned to Kanondo in the sunset, disappointed and dejected, but hopeful in the knowledge that the darter and rifle support had agreed to wait with me in the field the following day from 3.30pm. This was the only way to avoid delays in getting to any snared animal. I drove amongst the ‘P’ family, little "Plucka" standing beside her mother with her foot raised. Not one of the very habituated ‘Presidential Elephants,’ I wanted them to become more accustomed to my voice and my vehicle.
The next afternoon we waited as a team: myself and my vehicle, the darter, rifle support and a necessary second vehicle, ready to carry out the operation. Incessantly, I watched the sun lowering itself in the western sky. We could hear rustles in the bush. "What time is it?" I asked. "5 o’clock." Hours seemed to pass. "What time is it?" "5 past 5." More hours seemed to pass. "What time is it?" … "It’s three minutes after you last asked," he answered, smiling sympathetically at me. … I got the message. The first of the ‘P’ family appeared at 5.20pm. If only little "Plucka" had appeared then, we were determined to try in the failing light. But there was no sign of her or her mother, although I felt sure they must still be around.
The following afternoon we all waited once again. The ‘W’ family appeared in the late afternoon, and in an attempt to add a little relief to our anxious wait, I took the darter to meet "Whole". This was an ex-National Parks employee, with many, many years of bush and elephant experience. He had shot many an elephant. It was he who I had rung for darting assistance just before "Wholesome" had died before my eyes. We approached within a few metres of "Whole", who reacted initially with a little concern at the sight and smell of this strange person in my vehicle. But I crooned to her, calling her by name. She approached the passenger side window to within half a metre. The darter froze, and looked at her only out of the corner of his eyes. "It’s toooo close," he whispered to me. I put my hand on his arm in reassurance, leaving it there whilst I continued to croon: "Hey Whole. Good girl Whole. Hey my girl" … The darter relaxed now and looked into "Whole’s" eyes. He was clearly awestruck. When eventually we pulled away from "Whole", his first words to me were: "Could I bring my family one day?" … This is what it is all about. These extraordinary ‘Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe.’ "Those pupils! We looked each other straight in the eye. Imagine!," he continued, still clearly spellbound. He would not forget in a hurry his encounter with "Whole", the first wild elephant he had observed at such close quarters.
The excitement subsided when the first of the ‘P’ family appeared. "What time is it?"… How I hated the answers to these questions. It was 5.30pm. It was too late again. We needed at least 45 minutes of daylight, and even by dark "Plucka" and her mother had not appeared from the bush. Were they merely moving slowly, impaired by the injury, well behind the other family members? Or had the family group split? Was "Plucka" still alive? It was unusual to sight the same family at the same pan for five days in a row, which was now the case. But then it was not unusual for elephants to restrict their wanderings when there was an injured family member. Nor was it unusual for a family to stay by a dead family member for several days before moving off. I simply did not know what to think.
Determined now to keep trying, we returned again the next day. But the same scenario repeated itself yet again. This time though, after yet another tragic sighting - a little two-year-old in the ‘F’ family with no trunk left to speak of, appallingly left behind in a snare - I waited alone with a spotlight after dark, to see if "Plucka" came to drink. The southern cross was already high in the sky when the full fiery moon rose to the right of a big old acacia tree. I wished that I could appreciate the beauty a little more, but my heart was heavy. The skittish buffalo which had arrived in the late afternoon finally drank at the pan. I could not see any wires, although I knew that six snared buffalo had previously been sighted, but in which herds, I could not know. Unlike the elephants, I did not know the buffalo herds well enough to distinguish between them. Eventually, previously snared "Pooky" with her torn left ear, arrived with her mother well after dark, as did other ‘P’ family members. By 8pm, my spotlight fading and me freezing in the cold night air, the members of the ‘P’ family who had arrived earlier were now out of sight. Perhaps other ‘P’s would still appear, but I decided dejectedly to go home. Although the moon was shedding light, it was now difficult to distinguish ear patterns, and therefore to make positive identifications. There was still no sign of "Plucka" or her mother, but the ‘P’ family were definitely still in the same area. At least some of them were.
The same thing happened on Day 7 when I waited alone at Kanondo once again, driving intermittently to close by watering areas and up and down nearby roads.
And now I am losing hope … but will not give up.