There is something humbling and inspiring when living out in the bush. Acquiring an epic sequence on film is always adrenalin filled and exciting, but it is often the little things that stay with you for life. The way the praying mantises interact with the lights in the evening, battling to acquire the most productive hunting spot or the way the grass frogs cover the bonnet creating the most magnificent of patterns. These images and moments stick with you. Then there are the mightier of moments; then there was the elephant and the chilli.
It had been a long day in the bush; each day requires patience and endurance whether it be from the scorching African heat or the bitter cold winds of winter. This day had been a cold and windy day. As field operators we sleep in the car wherever we are filming. We began the trek to find a secluded spot away from the biting wind for the evening. Looking forward to a warm meal we chose something guaranteed to warm us up. Both hot and spicy, chicken curry with extra chilli’s seemed an appropriate choice.
The sun had long disappeared beyond the horizon; the sound of the bush came alive all around us. The distinct trill of a pearl spotted owlet, the methodical hum of crickets and the familiar sound of grazing elephants.
After settling in and getting dinner on the way, we moved to the roof to let the curry simmer. The sound of the herd was fading into the distance. There is always an extra sense of alertness when elephants are nearby and we allowed ourselves to relax for a minute, as their sounds grew fainter. Only seconds of quiet passed until a loud crash of branches quickly snapped us back to alertness. Peering out from the trees not 10 meters from us was a lone bull elephant.
For those who do not know when dealing with African elephants in the bush, the lone males are the trust worthiest of them all, while a herd of female elephants (cows) with calves can be the most dangerous. In this instance the best thing for us to do was to wait silently and let the elephant come to us.
He approached the car calmly and slowly. His trunk reaching out and testing the smells around him. Seemingly unfazed and satisfied with his surroundings his giant body moved towards us. We watched quietly from the roof. His towering stature put us just above his line of sight. It was the most incredible feeling having this mighty bull stand merely a meter away and be so peaceful. That moment came where with one stretch of his trunk he could touch us on the roof. Instead he reached for the cooking pot.
Now I have heard rumours of elephants dislike for spice and chillies, even to the extent of people planting them around their gardens to protect their vegetables. Always a bit of a sceptic I did not know whether to believe these stories or not. This evening proved them right. As soon as the bull curiously lowered his trunk to the pot he recoiled. Ears flaring he quickly took three steps backwards, shook his head, turned and ran.
There may be several reasons for his behaviour, but none as convincing as his dislike for my cooking. This is a moment I will never forget, the encounter of the elephant and the chillies.