The young elephant of Mfuwe


Teaching a wild animal to lose its fear of humans to the point where it feels confident enough to eat from our hands should not be a cause for celebration… feeding them is wrong… Doing so can cause them harm and, as this story demonstrates, lead to an unhappy end.

The story begins out in the bush in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. It begins with the birth of a baby elephant. He lives with his herd,… learns the secrets of life in the forest. … led by the oldest female, who is always concerned for the well-being of the herd…

That year, a campsite for tourists had been built near to the crossing point… full of delicious fruit too irresistible for the herd to be able to keep their distance from the campsite.

Daily encounters with the tourists soon became the norm, and as the elephants became a tourist attraction… the little elephant, but he was intrigued by the humans, who often succeeded in tempting him… The tourists all wanted to be photographed with the baby elephant, who continued to grow in confidence until he began to eat from their hands. He was gorgeous, cute and friendly… That was the start of his troubles. For animals, everything that happens in the early stages of life – mistakes included – becomes indelibly stamped upon the memory.

In 2005, we were offered the chance to manage a tourist lodge… the very one visited each year by the family of elephants, and that is how our destiny came to cross with that of the little elephant.

… this year, however, things were a bit different. The tourists no longer put up so cheerfully with the lumbering presence of the elephant – by now about 12 years old… He had been encouraged in his behaviour by people for their entertainment, and now they no longer wanted him around, on account of his size, and the fear it instilled.
Would he always be so docile, or could he turn dangerous? From that day on we tried to improve his wayward behaviour because we knew that before too long…We knew that retraining him would take considerable time – time that we simply didn’t have… The young elephant was full of spirit. At times, his funny ways made us laugh, at others his skills impressed us.

One day there arrived one of the park rangers tasked with observing the young elephant to assess whether he might pose a risk to people…The young elephant was considered to be used to humans, and therefore potentially dangerous. The recommendation was awful – he should be shot.

We could nothing to oppose… Resigning ourselves to his death, we set about finding a way to make sure his culling would not put at risk other young members of the herd. Young elephants are difficult to tell apart within a group, and there was a high chance of the wrong elephant getting shot. Eventually we worked out a way… The idea of the hunter – or rather, the hit man – stalking the herd through the bush and shooting down our little paint-stained elephant was almost too much for us to bear. We felt defeated.

Late in the afternoon of the 6th of October… Valentino said to me, “… Let’s go to our secret spot!”
As we got back to the lodge, we were met by a young woman, “Everything went well. There were no problems”. In that moment I understood why Valentino had wanted to take us far away from the camp. He wanted to spare me the pain of hearing the shot.

“A single shot rang out in the bush at the edge of the park. The bullet pierced the skull, burning into the brain. The elephant fell heavily to the ground. His only wrongdoing was to have befriended man… And man had betrayed him, without giving him a chance”.