A fictional account of an elephant hunt
|The rumbling was worse than thunder, for its source was the earth itself, not the sky. The weather was pleasant enough, the sun shone with all its brilliance and the tall blue sky was cloudless, nature unaware of the slaughter that was about to commence. The elephant herd was about three dozen in strength, most of them females and calves. They were running downhill, raising a massive cloud of dust as they galloped for protection. The four male bulls were a considerable distance ahead, for the females had the calves to protect, infants destined to die young in a cruel world.
It was a magnificent sight from where I stood on the opposite hill, even in chaos the great beasts had a certain majesty that other beasts like humans completely lacked. The bulls in particular did not look like they were running away, but rather like they were charging at something ahead. I watched on impassively as the group of hunters finally appeared from behind the hill, armed men on horseback pursuing the great beasts. Even after so many hunts, it never ceases to amaze me how tiny men with a rifle could make the might of nature’s great elephants inconsequential in comparison. I felt a certain twinge as I saw doom approaching the herd, intelligent and often gentle beasts killed for their skin and their tusks. It was however, just a twinge in my heart, one I felt often in my 'profession'. My brain on the other hand, was calculating the money I would make in the market for so much ivory. My share would come up to a considerable amount.
"Do you want to sit there all day or do you want to get some work done?" I roused myself and turned around to face a short, bearded man. "If you want to sit there, you can forget about your share, if you want to get some work done, I suggest you join the others." I felt myself sigh as the man walked away, I hoped Ormon was not going to be a pain this evening. Checking my rifle and ammunition on the way, I sauntered over to my horse, which stood with the rest of the mares. There were eight men in the group including me, eight experienced and solid hunters. More than enough to handle four bulls. Forming into two groups, we trotted our way downhill, none of us in a hurry as we knew that the bulls would take a few more minutes to charge down our way.
I headed the first group myself and lingered at the foot of the hill, directly in the path of the approaching goliaths as the second group with Ormon headed towards the trees to enclose them from behind. I grinned at Kormas, the nearest horsemen.
"Might be a good one today. You should have seen the size of those bulls; I bet a single tusk from one of those champs would take care of your gambling debts for the next ten years." All I got in response was a grunt, but I chuckled anyway. The approaching rumble of the bulls was getting stronger now. The horses were snorting and shifting around uncomfortably, but the men stroked their backs and looked ahead at the bend of the slope, waiting for our prey to approach. I felt myself suck in the deep scent of the hunt.
"Easy now." I murmured to my Persian mare as the dust became visible. I looked again at the steady line of horsemen beside me, poised to cut the charging behemoths down. I still remember the first years when we hunted as a group, at a time like this we would shout words of encouragement to each other, assuming that it helped. Now there was only the heavy breathing and the thumps of the hooves, the years had taught us that words did not change the course of the hunt. Each man knew his part well and had enough confidence in himself.
The rumbling was loud enough to make talking difficult now and I raised my rifle as I saw the first of the giants charge out from the bend. One mistake from a single member and we were all doomed. The tension was palpable. My rifle boomed in my hand and then the usual chaos enveloped us. The elephants gave out an angry roar that deafened the team and the men roared back with their rifles. Pulling at the reins, we met them head on and galloped between them, making circles around the raging bulls and firing at their broad sides. A missed shot or a botched reloading attempt was the difference between life and death.
Ormon galloped in with his men and fired from behind, one of the bulls went down with a shot through the side of his neck. I watched in a daze as one of the horsemen got knocked out of his saddle by a random shot from a colossal trunk and crashed into the ground. Dodging the flailing trunks, I shot another bull right though his chest cavity and the bloody carcass fell like an uprooted tree. Swerving around to avoid the collapsing behemoth, I saw that the third bull had been brought down, but through the immense amount of dust, I could not see where the last one was. The world had compressed as in every hunt, existence consisted only of deafening gun shots, screams and smoke.
"After that fellow right now!" Ormon bellowed as he saw the last bull break through the formation and rush into the trees, the blood that wept through its flanks seeming to have no effect on its speed. Harnessing our reins, we went after the wounded giant at full gallop, dust coating our faces as we raced through the thick formation of trees and thorns to pursue the beast. Only Ormon and Kormac stayed behind to meet the rest of the herd as they came charging round the hill. I saw the sorroundings blur around me in the speed of the gallop, the humid air making things even harder.
I had been around long enough to know that tracking the beast down would not be a problem, for we just had to follow the trail of uprooted trees. I was however, uncertain on how badly wounded the beast was, or even how fast it could maneuver through the trees. The only thing more dangerous than a healthy, alert elephant was a desperate and angry one. As our mounts took us deeper through the jungle, I heard thundering gunshots behind us from the open valley. The females and calves must have run into Ormon and Kormac, with the rest of the hunters at their heels.
"Split up." I called out to the rest of the pack, suprised at the authourity of my own voice. "Two on the left of the trail, two on the right, two on the trail." The arc formation was always the best to hunt down a wounded elephant; each group could protect the other in case the beast went berserk. "How far ahead is the next pool?" My question was not aimed at anyone in particular but Killick answered. "My guess is it cant be more than five minutes away. Maybe even two if we push the horses." I shifted in my saddle. There were several pools scattered all over the forest, if we could catch up with the beast by the time it reached the first pool, the open area would give us a clear shot.
Ignoring the rough branches which grazed our skin as we raced by, I dug my heels into my horse’s sides to urge it on faster. Unless the elephant was mortally wounded, it would gallop away as fast as our horses for twenty miles and walk for another fifty miles faster than any of us could run. I remembered the size of the bull’s tusks; I knew how many mouths they would feed. To let it escape and bleed to death somewhere in the interior of the woods would be a sin.
I sighed in relief as we burst out of the clearing at the pool, and I heard some of my hunters give a shout of triumph as they saw the behemoth only a little more than a pistol shot away. The old beast was hard hit but not gravely wounded, he could disappear if we did not catch up fast. I raised my rifle with my mount at full gallop, squeezing the trigger and the men cheered as the shot crashed into the soil not more than a few meters from our quarry. Encouraged, the rest of the hunters took their shots as the figure ahead loomed closer, some shots swerving off course and some landing close by.
As we pursued it through the clearing, it was obvious from the red puddles on our path that the old bull was bleeding badly. I raised my rifle again, this time with my mount only at a trot and took the shot. A puff of dried mud erupted from the beast’s neck, but I could see from the way the behemoth continued that the bullet did not penetrate the fortress of its skull. But the end was close for the mighty beast, as we caught up with it and emptied our shots into its chest, the bullets ripping its internal organs. It’s legs gave way under it and we watched as the titan collapsed on the mud. We brought our mounts to a halt and sorrounded the paralysed collossus, a mark of respect for a great beast.
All that was left was the final execution. I dismounted and drew out my pistol to end its suffering. As I approached the immobile beast, all I saw in those intelligent eyes was agony. I was expecting anger.
In the heartbeat that I pulled the trigger, I felt lucky for being born a human.