Working at a game lodge you get to see so many varied and exciting things that you could be forgiven for almost becoming blasé… I say almost, because each sighting has its own special value and creates memories that will last long after the dust from the bush has been shaken from your walking boots. Field guides and game rangers all have many colourful stories to tell you, about things that happened to themselves or to their guests. For me, one of the highlights of my work in the bush was meeting Elvis.
One of the first times I ever saw him, he streaked through the outside dining area. That was a sight to behold! Obviously he had not been expecting there to be people sitting at the small tables round the fireplace, enjoying some traditional African Braaivleis or barbeque, but there were a few of us, so he had quite an audience… Anyway, first we heard some heavy breathing, followed by a rustling sound, and then Elvis stuck his head around the reed fence. The guest closest to the fence let out a shriek and pushed back her chair, startling Elvis who had just decided to enter the area. So Elvis ran…straight past the fireplace, giving us a perfect view in the firelight, and into the dining room, where we heard him banging into a table before he fled into the night.
There followed a startled silence. After a few seconds, a shaky voice asked “Who was THAT?” Now I had seen the funky hairstyle in the light of the fire, so with a huge smile I replied “That, ladies and gentlemen, was Elvis.”
There followed more questions, a few of them being: Does he come here often? Is he dangerous? Why did he run away? And my favourite…Does he always smell so bad? (The answers being: yes; not really, unless you startle him; he wasn’t expecting visitors; and yes, I’m afraid so, as he never baths.)
After that encounter, I knew this group of guests would go back home and tell their probably disbelieving families and friends about meeting Elvis in the African bush.
Well, Elvis became a regular visitor. After his initial fright of finding people sitting in the semi-darkness around the fire, he soon settled down. Almost every evening he’d either appear at the Bar in the lounge before dinner, hoping to scrounge a few peanuts, or he would arrive sometime during dinner. We’d hear him panting his way along the path to the dining room, and one of us would then announce “Elvis is coming, so please just sit quietly and don’t make any sudden movements if he comes past your table.” Now if those particular guests at dinner had not yet encountered Elvis, you’d get some very funny looks following that announcement. But the raised eyebrows and funny looks would melt into looks of disbelief and awe as Elvis finally stomped into the room and began his tour of the tables.
He inspected each table in turn and he particularly fancied ladies’ handbags that were hung on the back of the dining room chairs…he had once discovered an apple in a bag, and having fished it out with surprising speed, had sped off into the night with his prize. So he was ever hopeful of finding another treat, and the bag inspection became a regular habit. The guests would take some photos, which bored him, as he had been photographed so many times before, so then if no bread (his particular favourite) was forthcoming, he would wander off to the kitchen to go and harass the staff. He usually just loitered on the step outside, causing the waitresses to have to step over or around him as they carried plates back and forth. Eventually one of the kitchen staff would come over to me and plant some leftover bread on the table, as if to say “Get him out of our way!!” But all the staff tolerated him, and even secretly liked him.
Anyway, Elvis was a great hit with all of our guests. Never outstaying his welcome, he would gently take the bread out of my hand, piece by piece; chewing slowly and thoroughly like his mamma probably taught him. Once he saw that it was nearly finished, he would look at me as if to ask was I sure there wasn’t any more hiding somewhere? I would show him my empty hands to indicate that we were done. So, with the last piece in his mouth he would head towards the dining room entrance. With toss of his head with its stylishly messy hair, he would glance back at the guests as if to bid them a good evening, and head off to patrol the garden and surrounds.