‘Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’
Johan Wolfgang van Goethe
That is how I would describe Beuga, bold. If she had a tomb stone it would read, born 1955, died 30th October, 2011 – mother, grandmother and great grandmother of Isandulelo, which means New Beginnings or New Dawn in Zulu,who was born a week before she died. She was the matriarch of 70 elephants, more than the so-called carrying capacity of the land of the reserve. Antares has now taken over as the new leader and when I saw the elephant herd on the shoreline a few days after her death, Betelgeuse, the sister closest to her was still nervous of us and agitated with the young bulls.
It was as if her death had been decided by her and the rest of the herd. The day before the destruction permit, which was illegally issued, was about to expire, the elephant herd walked out into an open space beneath the White Elephant Lodge. This is a similar area to where Nduna was shot 6 years previously. You can read about his life and death in the article I wrote for Renaissance magazine. It was my first introduction into the world of animal interspecies communication.
Heike, the researcher saw the land owner drive past. She was on her way to spend some time with the herd, now that they had been located. ‘Strange’, she thought, ‘he does not usually drive around here on a Sunday’. The herd were grazing and seemed relaxed. Heike saw a game vehicle drive closer to them. She raised her binoculars to see who it was. The land owner was sitting in the rear of the vehicle driven by the Lodge game guide and had a dart gun aimed at the elephants. Heike was confused. ‘Are they going to dart one of the bulls to vasectomise him, I did not know about this?’
Antares came towards the vehicle, uncomfortable with its closeness. Close behind her was Beuga, ready to protect her herd. The dart hit her between the eyes. She sauntered towards the thicket as if unaffected and then collapsed. Several of the adult elephants hovered around her body wandering what had happened. Amongst them was Ngani, just ‘off the hook’ from being in the same situation himself. Antares, Betelgeuse and Bodicea her eldest daughter. There was no noise. No squeals, only silent uncertainty before Antares lead them away from the ambush.
The land owner cautiously waited until all the elephants had left. The dose he had darted into Beuga should ‘keep her asleep for several hours’ he thought. His next intent was to inject her with a large dose of scoline – the ‘put to sleep’ drug used on various animals. It was supposed to take effect within minutes, but she continued to breath one anaesthetized breath after another. The land owner panicked. He phoned another wildlife vet for advice. Tears in his eyes. He would now have to shoot her. He rushed past Heike, who had come nearer. Everything had happened so quickly, she was stunned. ‘I am so sorry’, he said and instructed the guide to hurry and fetch his rifle. Thirty minutes later he held the gun to her temple, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. She stopped breathing and he crumpled beside her tears plunging down his cheeks. ‘It was just like shooting a person’, is all Heike could hear him grasp as she stood behind his shuddering back.
It is important that Beuga’s death is not in vain.
It is important that permits are not issued for an elephant’s destruction when she is doing what a matriarch should do – protect those she loves. We need NEMBA Elephant Norms and Standards to be administered by a Board of Specialists who understand elephant behavior and can interpret it to those who want elephants for the wrong reasons, usually as commodities for financial gain.
I would like to organize a documentary that tells the story of these elephants, hears the concerns of land owners, and provides a platform for the voice of elephant researchers and specialists to be heard.
I believe that not only do we need nature as much as it needs us, we are mutually interdependent for our emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing, but elephants carry a special message in the world – LINKING. If we link land and open corridors so that they can walk their natural pathways again, we will have to change, we will have to learn to share, to make decisions together and become less possessive and competitive.
It was Mandela who said, ‘you cannot change a situation unless you can change yourself’.
So let’s work together to link land. Please continue to donate here to make this possible.
I would like to organize a conference that discusses elephant management issues in small reserves. Would you attend? Who would you like to hear speak – Gay Bradshaw: Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach us About Humanity? Anthony Lawrence, The Elephant Whisperer? Rudi van Aarde, head of the Zoology Department at the University of Pretoria, Director of the Conservation Ecology Research Unit? Who else?
I am looking forward to your contribution and your feedback so that Beuga’s sacrifice to protect her herd, in life and in death, is honored through a conservation transformation in each one of us to value our interdependence with the Creator and all he has created for us to enjoy, protect and take care of with mindful responsibility.
Previous Correspondence telling this Elephant Saga:
Save Ngani, a Dominant Bull who will be Hunted Unless You Respond
Further Elephant Communications: Saving the Life of Ngani and Beuga’s Plea