Straight From the Elephant’s Mouth

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So it’s like this: The human quarters at Londolozi game reserve are cordoned off by a thin electric wire, which doesn’t do much to discourage antelopes and monkeys—or for that matter, lions and leopards—but which does keep elephants from wandering in.

At least, that’s the idea.

More than a year ago, one bull elephant figured out how to pull down the wire and get into the camp, where he binges on the lovingly tended flower and vegetable gardens. He became such a regular visitor that the Londolozi residents took to calling him “Night Shift.”

Months ago, in an attempt to keep the elephant at bay, the staff added additional wires to the fence. Night Shift learned to uproot fence poles. Gaps in the fence, where cars drive through, are protected by metal grills on which most animals won’t walk; Night Shift has recently been seen daintily tiptoeing—all six tons of him—across the grills. Night Shift has caused tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, and though he’s never harmed anyone, an African bull elephant looming up in the dark at close range could seriously freak someone out.

On Monday I was discussing this problem with Bronwyn, Boyd, and Shan Varty, three-fourths of the family who run Londolozi. Not far away, workers were reinstating several fence poles that Night Shift had merrily flicked aside the night before. At their wits’ end, the Vartys were wondering whether they should have the elephant relocated to some other part of Africa.

This is one reason I love the Vartys so much: when I suggested that we call a highly intuitive friend, who has been known to give accurate readings and predictions, they went for it. Within minutes, we’d made the call and Night Shift was coming in loud and clear. Here is part of the conversation that followed, verbatim (except for the gales of laughter that followed every message Night Shift supposedly sent).

Friend: “He wants his own camp.”

Us: “Could you please tell him that’s not feasible?”

Friend: “He understands.”

Us: “Will he please stop breaking in at night?”

Friend: “No. He loves people. Londolozi is his special project.”

Us: “Ooooh-kaaaay. Can we come to some sort of compromise?”

Friend: “He wants a sweet spot.”

Us: “A ‘sweet spot’? What the hell does that mean?”

Friend: “Oranges.”

Us: “He wants oranges?”

Friend: “He LOVES oranges. Also people.”orange

At this point, the other one-fourth of the Varty clan, patriarch Dave, walked onto the veranda. “Did you know Night Shift is in the front garden?” he said casually.

Without a word of consultation, everyone dashed into the kitchen, grabbed some oranges, and rushed out to the front garden. Sure enough, there was Night Shift, eating bushes.

Boyd began bowling oranges toward the elephant, applying plenty of elbow grease to get them through the tall grass. Don’t try this at home. Generally, you should expect wild elephants to react with alarm, if not aggression, should you start hurling objects toward them. Not Night Shift. He pounced on the oranges like a kid grabbing candy from a broken piñata, popping them into his mouth and scrunching joyfully, the way you might eat a Tic-Tac.

When we ran out of oranges, Night Shift wandered away (and I grabbed a camera to shoot the picture above). Our intuitive friend contacted us to communicate one more message: “Thanks!”

The next morning, Night Shift had uprooted no fewer than eight new fence posts. But as I lefft Londolozi, instead of stocking up on snub-nosed bullets or tranquilizer darts, the Vartys were assembling a big mesh bag filled with oranges. They’re trying to decide where to place them so that monkeys and baboons won’t get them and Night Shift will recognize them as fair trade for his leaving fences and gardens where they are. I’m sure they’ll figure it out in the end, because this is Londolozi, a term that in Zulu means “protector of all living things.”

For the camp’s sake, I hope Night Shift moves on quickly, or at least modifies his “special project” to make it less expensive for his beloved humans. But for my own sake, I’m thrilled he was here, busting in, making trouble, and requesting oranges from people just zany enough to grant his wish. As always, this is one spot where magic is not suppressed, and that makes me believe my own wishes can be magically granted as well.