HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsI could have been killed by an elephant

I could have been killed by an elephant

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When I awoke, face up, I was startled to see a giant elephant standing over me. I was lying underneath it and all I managed to say was: “Oh my God, Oh my God.”

Ropafadzo Mapimhidze

I started rolling towards a bus like a log, crawled quickly and stood up.

All this happened within a few minutes – thanks to the obstacle-crossing exercise I learnt during military training in 1979.

On August 19, I had boarded a Tenda Bus from Road Port in Harare at around 7pm heading for Lusaka, Zambia, through Chirundu Border Post.

The bus arrived at around midnight and because the immigration offices were closed, most people on the bus disembarked and spread blankets on the tarmac to sleep.

Chirundu lies along the Zambezi Escarpment, which is extremely hot and it is normal practice for passengers, who are mainly cross-border traders, to sleep outside the bus because the heat is just unbearable.

When we arrived at this point, we saw an elephant which is said to frequent this area in scrounge bins for food leftovers.

I actually tried taking a photograph of the elephant, but it was too far away and the flash on my Samsung mobile phone could not reach where it was tilting bins. It then just disappeared.

As the cross border traders fell asleep on the tarmac, I wondered what would happen should more elephants appear.

That thought made me shudder and I immediately went back into the bus and tried to get some sleep, but I just couldn’t. The heat was just too much and so I decided to sit on a chair outside the bus.

As the clock ticked towards 1am, the temperatures suddenly cooled to almost cold. I collected my little blanket from the bus.

So many things were going on in my mind and I kept asking myself whether or not I should lie down and sleep. I decided to go on the other side of the bus and spread my blanket and dozed off. But before I had spread my blanket, I noticed a broken fence that clearly showed that some wild animal must have caused that.
I tried to figure out what was beyond the fence, but it was too dark to see anything. A couple of passengers were asleep near the fence so I decided to do likewise.

At around 3 am, a guard whispered to us to wake up. The guard did not want to shout because he did not want to excite the huge elephant that had come through that hole in the fencing.

When I opened my eyes, I came face-to-face with a jumbo . . . a very big elephant. It is amazing how the human body reacts when faced with danger.

I cannot aptly recall how I freed myself from possible trampling by this animal. But I do remember standing up in shock and looking at this great mammal.

Some passengers came over to me and asked: “Nhai amai munonamata kupi? Nzou yange yaakuda kukusimudzai (Which church do you belong to? The elephant was about to lift you up when you started rolling . . . It was about to attack you.)

One man said the elephant had flapped its ears in excitement and it was extending its trunk towards where I lay when I suddenly started rolling. They also said that earlier this year, a passenger was trampled at that same spot.

I immediately sent messages to my family members in Lusaka, the UK, China and Harare who responded in disbelief. They thought I was just joking.

My elder sister and first born in our family Farisai and my dad’s sister, however, crossed the border two days later and heard the story being talked about and that is only when it dawned on them that I had actually survived an encounter with an elephant.

It is an experience that will remain deeply etched in my memory because I have heard about tourists and local people that have been trampled by elephants, but never did I imagine coming across one at such a close range.

I have been to national game parks and seen these animals from a distance and I am one person that fears wildlife no matter how tame the animals may be. As my family and friends gathered at the wedding of my nephew in Lusaka, I could not help, but wonder how this beautiful wedding could have been spoilt by either a funeral or serious injuries I could have sustained from this encounter.
As the morning dawned, news had filtered to immigration and Zimra personnel who said I was lucky to be alive.

There is a myth that elephants attack people that use juju which some vendor at the border said is used especially by cross border traders to evade paying their taxes.

But I am truly thankful for the gift of life in the true sense of the word. How could I have died celebrating my nephew’s wedding in Lusaka? How would my daughters living overseas have reacted? What of my dear friends and workmates?

I had a closer look at the foot of the elephant and it was as wide as a winnowing basket (rusero).

An elephant is a humongous animal.The other odd thing about an elephant is that it does not produce any movement sounds because its feet look as though they have rubber soles and hence attack its target without much warning.

It is my humble appeal to Chirundu border post authorities to work around the clock like what happens at Beitbridge because the heat around this crossing point is unbearable.

This may also save unsuspecting passengers who are at risk of wild animal attacks.
According to research conducted by National Geographic, elephants kill an estimated 500 people each year across Africa and Asia for no apparent reason.
I thank God for saving my life.

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