Written by Ryan Davy
The expedition into Zimbabwe was due to the need for a better understanding of Elephant mannerisms, emotional dynamics and the importance of understanding the over population of certain species which could have a detrimental effect on the vegetation... my findings were inconclusive.
The full story
My expedition into Zimbabwe was under scrutiny right from the moment I came up with the idea. I had been forewarned that entering Zimbabwe during a pandemic was an incalculable error and that everything I stood to believe in, about how beautiful and hospitable the country would be, was going to be proven wrong. All the positivity that I had practiced over the decades was about to be put to the test, and thoughts began to cross my mind that perhaps I wasn’t going to return at all, at least not standing. Eight weeks later, I was scheduled to return with hopefully everything I had set out to achieve and an accomplished mission that even a resilient individual like myself would find challenging. Fortunately, I’ve always embraced my fears and challenged negative influences to fuel my journey. It’s always somewhat rewarding when I achieve something that many have told me I can’t... pride can be an asset but also a dangerous weapon.
The journey began from Bonamanzi Game reserve in Kwazulu natal, a peaceful big four private game reserve large enough to enjoy a nice slow full day drive through the various diverse eco systems.
For a relaxed hiker, the walks around the waterholes would give any nature lover a nice little glimpse into paradise. Of course, this would depend on the nature lovers version of paradise. The pioneers may very well find themselves face to face with a small herd of buffalo, a posse of rhino or perhaps if they were lucky enough, they may be blessed to catch a glimpse of the illusive elephants that appear like ghosts from their hidden sand forest fortress. Once detected however, they would simply dissolve like speckles of grey into the thick dense wilderness, which is exactly what prompted my curiosity on the reserve.
I had been volunteering at Bonamanzi for the past few months prior to the expedition and through a process of back breaking hard labor I was finally able to convince the owner that I was a valuable asset to the reserve, and to conservation. Richard Grantham, the owner of Bonamanzi, had come to know me extremely well over a very short period of time due to my high-spirited, honest yet sensitive nature. He began to understand that perhaps I was a good catch for his proudly owned kingdom, however he had soon come to realize that if opportunities were not going to come my way, I would go out looking for them, which I did. Once I had reached the extremities of Bonamanzi’s boundary, I began slipping into a comfort zone, which is precisely the point when I begin to consider other challenging opportunities. When life becomes a routine, it’s generally a sign for me to challenge myself elsewhere. I decided to venture deeper into the jungle, or perhaps, deeper down the rabbit hole. By monitoring the elephants on Bonamanzi, I was beginning to tap into the sociology of these sentient beings. I wanted to know more, understand more and learn more. I had become intrigued by their intelligence and was determined to discover the meaning behind why they do the things they do.
One day I was delivered a disturbing message that KZN wildlife had announced the dilemma that Bonamanzi Game Reserve had 2 elephants too many and that 2 of the herd members would sadly need to be culled. This begged the question, which 2 of the 18 elephants would meet their demise. At the same time I had stumbled across an article about the large numbers of elephants residing in Zimbabwe, a number well over the 100,000 mark and that a significant amount would also need to be culled. I took the fortuitous coincidence of this recent development as an opportunity to understand more about the demographics of these mysterious creatures, and perhaps uncover some intricate behaviour in the herd’s dynamic and psychological social structure.
As a storyteller and humanitarian, my ears perked high and my brain bells rang loud. I wanted to enter Zimbabwe to learn how the big boys do it. For me to assess the sociology with the larger herds would easily allow me to understand the sociology of a small herd, and would then grant me the necessary intelligence to make for a wise decision of which 2 of our minuet pod of elephants would be granted rite of passage to the next life.
I was given permission to fulfill my goals in creating a “for the greater good” pilot episode of a series I had developed called Mysterious Creatures. Elephants were to be the test run to assess whether in fact there would be an audience for such a series, especially since the films would be released solely on social media platforms, with the idea that a feature length documentary would be made available later for the commercial market. Two weeks after the concept was delivered on a hard copied creative plan, I was on my way. An escort was arranged for me to be accompanied until Beitbridge. An ex Rhodesian citizen, Keith Wetmore, and his German wife Heidi, were all too exited about accompanying me north through the Kruger National park and would see me off at the border.
Keith and I had developed a good understanding of each other after having discussed the potential of doing a sea version of the same series except taken from the deck of his 54 foot ketch sailing vessel he had parked at the V&A waterfront in Cape Town. After having got wind of the news that I was going north, they had decided to accompany me to Beitbridge. Of course, neither of them were too excited about the notion of a potential Covid lock down in Zimbabwe, if at all they were able to cross. He had too many obligations in South Africa to run the risk of a possible quarantine, so we shook hands just outside of Beitbridge and parted ways. Keith and Heidi would envy my expedition into Zimbabwe and from what I had been told about the border, I almost envied them retreating to the comforts of familiar territory in South Africa. Except I climbed in the slightly challenged cruiser and without a shadow of a doubt I pushed forward toward the border.
I was heading through the gateway to Africa with not a hint of what was to be expected of me. I met up with a South African liaison who catapulted me into a gauntlet of obstacles. Five hours later I was as shaken as a berry tree on harvest day, I was $300 short and a busted ego that would compromise any battle raged warrior. I was, however, able to convey the good news to my envied entourage who were already a good 500 km in my rear-view mirror. “I am through”, this motioned the reaction that perhaps fortune may very well favor the brave.
I was extremely excited about the unknown, a facet of my life I have always enjoyed. Just before dark with lights that resembled no more shine than that found on 2 candles, I squinted into a lodge which put me right beside the Deti vlei, one of many vlei’s that resembled channels through the thick brush as if a family of tornadoes had carved their way through the vegetation.
This worked in my favor since this vlei provided ample watering holes for big herds of elephants, buffalo, and other weird and wonderful creatures, allowing me ample opportunities to research the emotional dynamics and demographics within large herds of animals, particularly elephant.