WALKING WITH ELEPHANTS

Posted on Posted in Articles, Kenya @ 50, Writers

It’s 6 AM Kenyan time. The 52 seater bus is almost full. Children in gray and maroon uniforms are in animated chatter. Some are on last minute efforts to finish their homework. Others are still sleepy and are dozing off as the bus drives towards the Imenti Forest.  It’s a Monday morning for the pupils of Salem Academy Meru; yet another school day in the school term’s routine. I am one of the pupils, then in class 5 and 10 years old.

The bus stops. We are on a section of road between Ruiri and Meru town. It’s near a place called Kithoka. It’s a section about 10 Kms long that gives a glimpse of the Imenti Forest. The Imenti Forest forms part of the Mount Kenya forest that is in Central Kenya.

The chatter starts from the front of the bus, children shouting and moving towards the windows. They open the windows and point towards the thickets and the forest of trees. They are excited and the morning grogginess seems to disappear. First, they seem like huge gray rocks. My myopia was beginning to get at me then, but I didn’t know. I did not have the sharpest vision, but I don’t think I needed any sharp vision then. The rocks which you would see turned out to be a herd of elephants. They were beautiful and majestic creatures. Them grazing on maganagana that grew on the side of the road as they travelled moving towards Tigania. They never seemed to be in a hurry and they usually seemed to enjoy being looked at, stared at, and admired. Back then, we could count up to 100 elephants at a time. I remember seeing the elephant calves and still thinking they were bigger than your average cow. Elephants mesmerized me. We never saw many other wild animals on this stretch apart from the giraffe we once saw at Kithoka. It seemed lost and confused unlike the elephants which always seemed at home.

In most August mornings, the elephant watch was a most enjoyable and pleasurable exercise. Nothing completed my morning than seeing those humongous animals with their white tusks in their numbers grazing quietly and peacefully. I remember gloating to my friends Paul Kimathi and Kenneth Mwirigi who never got to see the elephants since they lived in town. I would enjoy the sight of elephants for 2 more years before moving to the town like my friends and taking an unwanted break from the creatures.

Today, I read Satao is dead. Satao was the biggest elephant in Kenya. Last week, Mountain Bull was discovered killed too. Mountain Bull lived in the Mount Kenya forest. I always enjoyed seeing the bulls in musth; the bulls that roamed around wreaking havoc and eating farmers’ crops. I didn’t enjoy that part. But their solitary strength was inspiring. I might have seen Mountain Bull 11 years ago or his family. The users of Mombasa Road might have seen Satao roaming freely in the Tsavo; years back when both Satao and Mountain Bull were free and alive and unafraid of poachers.

It takes many years, more than 50 for an elephant to grow to the size of Satao or Mountain Bull. Satao was one of the largest creatures walking the earth. The top 5. He belonged not just to Kenya, not Africa, but the world. He earned that envious position in the animal world after decades of existence. It took a few poisoned arrows by greedy, heartless, uncaring poachers for Satao to be another elephant killed too soon.

2 months ago, I talked to an old friend who lived in Kithoka who told me the elephants rarely visited anymore. I didn’t know what to say then, but now I do. My kids may never know the joy of seeing elephants roam free in the wild. They may never see tuskers march across the road as they watch in amazement. Satao could be the last biggest elephant we know. And for all that I shed a tear. I shed a tear for each of the elephants poached this year. May the spirits of Satao and Mountain Bull and all the elephants poached haunt the poachers and unite Kenyans in fighting for their kin.

©Njagi M’Mwenda

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