Flippy comes to camp

Not long after arriving in our new camp at Korongwe game reserve we had our first encounter with a famous local resident, Flippy. Stepping out of my tent one afternoon, I heard the telltale cracking of tree branches coming from the river bed opposite that I now know means one thing: elephants are in town! I rushed over to the picnic benches to secure the best view, where a small crowd of future guides was just beginning to gather. For 20 minutes or more we sat quietly in our own thoughts, simply watching and listening to these gentle giants happily munching away on the trees some 30 metres away. Just then, someone moved to try to get a better view of the magnificent bull that was unknowingly walking closer and closer in our direction. Flippy had seen us. Knowing he is by far the biggest and strongest animal in the entire reserve, he swaggered straight over to where we were sitting to check us out. And so he stood. An enormous beast towering over us just 10 short paces away. To say I was a little nervous is an understatement! Finally, one of the instructors motioned for us to retreat to the lecture theatre but, as we walked around, the increasingly curious Flippy decided to follow…

With 7 or 8 of us now huddled in the safety of the study area, Flippy gave us a defiant look before wandering nonchalantly over to the freshly built fence to the worker’s camp just a few metres away.  Sensing it hadn’t been there on his last camp visit, Flippy slowly passed his truck over the poles in a seemingly innocent and inquisitive manner. Mark, the instructor, knew better. With a tiny flick of his humungous head, there was the first crack of a fence pole as it met with an impressive tusk. Not wanting to see all his hard work destroyed, Mark began to get annoyed and started telling Flippy off…to which Flippy paused for a few seconds as if to consider his options before very slowly and deliberately breaking another one. This time Mark got even louder and more annoyed, although us students were finding the idea of a 90kg man telling off 5 tonnes of wild elephant quite amusing! Like watching a toddler being told off, we could almost see the internal argument Flippy was having with himself. He desperately wanted to break the fence, for no other reason than to defy this small animal who was telling him that he couldn’t, and yet he wasn’t quite sure what it would do if he did. For several minutes he hovered with his tusk on the fence in some sort of showdown with Mark. Finally, deciding it wasn’t worth the bother, he sauntered down the path after breaking one more pole like a matchstick, just to make a point!

However, our fun wasn’t quite over yet! As Flippy stood now some 20 metres away contemplating his next move, Jasper, another instructor, stepped in to play. Hoping to show us future guides how to safely approach an elephant on foot, he walked a few paces towards Flippy and away from the safety of the hut, before sitting on the ground in a non-threatening position. For several minutes we watched in awe as he sat with Flippy getting ever closer in his own curious manner. 15 metres. 10 metres. 8 metres. Holding our breath now, even Jasper decided this was close enough and politely told Flippy not to get any closer. Unfortunately, Flippy was still smarting a little from his earlier retreat and suddenly batted out his ears, halving the tiny distance between him and Jasper in the blink of an eye. Jasper reacted instantly, standing up to his full height – a shape in the bush that every animal is wary of, the upright human – and the now almost charging Flippy deflected at the last instant down a different path and scuttled away into the bush. Adrenaline glands pumping all round, it was a good half an hour before any of us could talk about anything else! Thanks for a great start to Korongwe, Flippy!

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