DEDICATED TO ALL AT ZAKOUMA WHO HAVE DEDICATED THEIR LIVES TO CONSERVATION THERE.
FOR SOME IT HAS BEEN THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE.
I am a Chadian elephant from Zakouma and this is my story. Its like no other.
When I was born, our frontier extended beyond where the earth and sky met. There were many of us, and many other animals too. I can recall when the big rivers ran with clear water, but that was a long time ago now. At the end of the last century there were vast herds of my kind here. But by the end of the first decade of the next, there were hardly any of us left.
I am one of them.
The others had all been shot out by mounted ivory poachers from Sudan. It was lawless back then, not like it is now. These horsemen were terrifying and rounded us up like cows, and killed as many as was humanly possible. Their lust for ivory drove them insane and I personally witnessed the massacres of herds of elephant, up to 60 at a time, in one place. Males, females and young ones were all killed for their white gold. I had heard of hunters and their ivory quests from my parents in the past, and was always wary of people in the field. But the extent of this frenzy was never experienced before by any of us here.
At times I return to the killing fields to pay my respects; it was not long after the day that I first went back. The bodies of my friends and relatives lay in clusters, some in a locked embrace, others in their final moments of torture and agony. Lion and hyena rested under the full moon, too bloated from their free meals to move, and too lazy to care about one another. I could recognise who the carcasses were by feeling their heads, ears, trunks, jawlines, feet, tails and skin as there was no longer any ivory in place to caress. It had all been taken. Hacked out by axes and machetes. I could not stay long. It was on that day, looking at the hollowed out skulls and grotesquely disfigured bodies that I truly realised how cursed I was to carry mine. We knew then, what the horsemen came to take, and why they would always come back.
I recall a young one in the aftermath of the killings. Somehow he had become separated from his family. Others calves who were not killed outright, and reluctant to leave the bodies of their dead and dying mothers, were bludgeoned to death in order to save bullets. They had a few centimetres of precious ivory to cash in. But not him; although he knew precisely what was happening he was spared seeing his family murdered, but not spared the days of torment afterwards because of it. He wandered alone into the bush and once emotionally spent, collapsed onto the ground. I saw his tiny body convulsing in pain, trauma, panic, rage and anguish. He sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I could not stay there so left him in the riverbed where he was lying. It was on the third night, I believe, that the lions took him. I can assure you that his spirit was long gone by then.
There are those of you who believe that this kind of emotional cognisance is reserved for your kind only. Let me encourage you to think again. It happens all around you if you only take the time to notice.From then on I preferred to hide in the forests, keeping my tusks out of sight when people were about. For a long time I only ventured out into the floodplains and drank at night. I’m not alone in this and there are others who did, and still do, the same.
For some time my rumbles were unanswered, and the bush, even for us, was silent for a while. The energy fields were dead too. I could walk for days before feeling another elephant, something that had never happened to me before. We were all silent then it seems, trying to lose ourselves in the frontier, as far away from the carnage and uncertainty as possible.
Slowly, mercifully, time passed.
You could say that I am one of the lucky ones. I have three bullets lodged in my shoulder. Reminders. I carry this other pain too, till today.
I have seen a lot of change here since that chapter, since the new people came.
They are not like any others; in fact in defence of our frontier, even some of their herd have been killed, I suspect, by the ferocious horsemen. I often wonder if those effected with the loss of their loved ones felt and feel anything like I did and do. Sometimes I sense it, as the energy is strong. Perhaps then, its true to say that we have helped one another to heal. If so, and by the ancient order of things, this means our destinies are intertwined.
How is it that some can create so much savagery for others? Many corrupt politicians, rogue militias and warlords have financed their campaigns and vendettas of terror directly though the illegal sales of ivory contraband. My white gold, as a resource to be plundered, is so valuable that it has a long and miserable history of both foreign and local exploitation. This exploitation has caused untold violence, murder and displacement. From remote badlands, ivory caches are smuggled out of my continent in diplomatic cargos, finding their way to carver’s sweatshops where the once beautiful tusks are hideously transformed into bizarre and distastefully shaped trinkets, ornaments and artefacts. Some even ends up as religious effigies with selfishly perpetuated myths of miraculous healing powers. Some on the streets of modern western society amongst people like you, where you would think it is socially, legally, morally, ethically, logically, emotionally and spiritually repulsive for any sane educated person to have in his or her possession. How is it possible for them to say I didn’t know? There is nothing more destructive in this world than good people who do nothing, and the more you turn a blind eye to the reality the more culpable you become; just as an ignorant and disillusional user flaunting ivory trinkets at decadent dinner parties, or the fat wealthy carver who supplies him, or as the blinkered religious zealot is.
But all of this should not be for my kind to know, its for yours. For yours is the only one who can do something about it. You may need to face some unpleasant realities in your journey into understanding how deep the dark toxic root of the ivory demand is buried in the soil of Africa. And how it influences not only us, but your kind. Governments, countries, and even our great continent itself. There is a complex war being fought and many new people who care deeply about this are fighting for my kind, and perhaps, ultimately for their own redemption. There is a quiet but simmering stillness of late.
But for how long. The ivory consumer is a relentless enemy.
I am old now, and my shoulder gives me trouble. I struggle to walk the distances to our herds, but still feel compelled to do so. It is my duty after all to be there with them, to offer my council. Although these days I prefer my own company, our families choose to band together in large gatherings. It’s safer that way. In case the horsemen return. We also chose not to bring young into the world for some time, as we did not want them to be subjected to what I saw.
This has slowly changed since the new people came.
Sometimes I meet with old friends, those who share the same memories and nightmares of those days as I. And to discuss this story amongst ourselves. They are all pathfinders, just like you and I. In the dry season, walks to water are far and tiring, but there is a place nearby the big river that occasionally runs water from the hands of new people. I sometimes go there. But it took a long time to cross back over and do it. On hot days, the sweet, clean and cool water is my lifeblood. But far more importantly, for the first time in a long while a far greater thirst, the thirst for hope, is being quenched.
I sense it now since the new people came. The wise grandmothers from the families speak of this too. A stillness amongst the new people and their activities. But it will take far longer for them to drink this water, if that day ever comes.
Sometimes, while drinking, I let the new people touch me.
I can tell why they do it; some for their own selfish fulfilment, some for a dare, some out of curiosity and some out of true compassion. I can tell which one is which by the resting and warmth of their hands on my tusk or skin. There are some people whom I genuinely attach to, some others I merely tolerate. For some I may not even offer this. Yet I am still frightened of the way a tall man wearing a coloured turban walks, or of the energy of another’s being, or of another talking in the tongue of the ferocious horsemen, and prefer to turn away when he is present at the water. Regardless of how thirsty I am.
I chose to cross back over at this place, but only on my terms.
I can sense stillness. I can sense peace.
And after what seemed an eternity, hope is here. But I will never forget.