Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Article excerpt


An elephant can break through an electric fence by pulling out the posts, pushing younger, more stupid animals into the wire -- or by simply sitting on the fence. I do hope they will play such tricks on us, now that high-voltage wires enclose most of the ranch, leaving only a few corridors for animals to pass through. The wilderness has become the territory of humans, a farm to produce food, no longer the land of elephants.

Before the second world war, when Africa swarmed with wildlife, there was a bull elephant on Kilimanjaro known as the Crown Prince. It had huge tusks. My father once tracked the Prince for many hours through the forest at great speed. He never caught a glimpse of the bull until, while taking a rest, he heard a noise and looked up to see the tip of an elephant's trunk a few feet above him, snuffing the air. Perhaps he could have shot it but he was not hunting at the time.

Later, a German found some land in the forest high on Kilimanjaro. The soil was deep, rich and red, but the man had no title deeds to it. He farmed it as a squatter. This was around the Great Depression when even the Europeans experienced hardships in East Africa. They ate plenty of game meat and a man could make a living from shooting elephant for their ivory.

This German -- his name was Hans, my mother says -- had a brother called Eric, who lived down the mountain in the village of Moshi. Hans was pleased with his secret gardens in the forest and so he persuaded his brother to come up and see it. Leaving Moshi, they climbed through the country with three local men until they came to a beaten path through thick forest set about with enormous trees.

All of a sudden they stopped. Ahead of them in the dark shade of the trees stood a great bull elephant, with large tusks. He spread out his ears in a threatening display but he neither moved nor made any sound. He just stood there. The party of five men were terrified by the sight of him and they silently turned and ran.

The men descended the mountain at great speed, and began discussing how they should return the next day with a gun and a hunting license. They could both shoot the elephant and visit Hans's cultivation. The next day they climbed up again and it was getting late when they reached the track through the forest. …

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