On the Passing of Majesty
Savute Safari Journal

The old elephant was weakening with his ever decreasing attempts at getting up - then the night set in. The night was punctuated by the ever weakening trumpets of frustration of the old elephant.

One of the lions approached the elephant and sensing the presence of the enemy the old bull tried to raise himself again but fell back. .. Sensing the bull's helplessness the lions' approaches became more regular, until one took a bite at the elephants rear end. The old bull reacted as if shocked into motion - but could still not raise himself.The next morning the only sign that he was alive was the puff off dust from each laboured breath. Some of the lions had gathered around in anticipation.
The heat came quickly.What followed was something that was difficult to watch, yet fascinating in its savagery - as the lions began to feed on the old elephant while it was still alive. The elephant took a long time to succumb.

Other Elephant Carcasses

Midday journals: It was more than a moment, the heat of the African sun, the dust-harvested earth and the soiled vantage point, the cackling of scavengers fighting for the last vestiges of physical form and beyond this ancient vision, peripheral players were stealing moments in the great drama.
There is something deeply moving about the death of an elephant, something of an occasion.

'It is eight days since the elephant succumbed to the wounds inflicted by the lions and not much is left of the carcass save for the hardened and desiccated skin and a smattering of bones littering the earth ....

The stench of the rotting carcass permeates the being. It is a bile-inducing stench, a stench that has reduced the great creature to a belly-swollen 'behemoth' ...

Shimmering blue flies, sluggish and swollen, revel in the stench, celebrating in a buzzing chorus.

The time after the carcass

After the journals: over time the sun-bleached bones of an elephant are the subject of much interest and conjecture, and debates over the reasons and spiritual significance the creatures death ....

Predators and scavengers do not care for the philosophical rhetoric of humans, such as our debating of the spiritual significance of an elephant's death, for the death of an elephant provides a meal for many, and means survival for that little longer in the wilderness.

The streaks of defecation on the drying skin of the carcass are an intimate indication of the true cycle of life on the African plains, and not that of the tainted ideal of life so philosophically described by us.

Epilogue - death of an impala

When an elephant dies the world becomes philosophical at the poignancy of the moment but when an impala dies the world's attention is piqued by the action, the impala merely the necessity for a satiation of the ideals of the watchers.

An impala dying is part of the wilderness law, an attraction to be savoured, and in our warped ideals of the cycles of the African wilderness there is no contradiction in this. The elephant is a regal creature - and the impala is merely bait for dramatic images.

When an elephant dies the captured moment is that of the passing of an icon but when an impala dies the captured moment is of the grace of the predator. Each moment in the cycle of an elephant carcass fading back into the earth is a moment of philosophical value.

by Leigh Kemp
Botswana Safari Tours and Game Lodges
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