Home » Arts & Culture » Chirundu – Where Man and Beast Frolic

Forget about dogs, cats, cattle, donkeys, chicken or any other species of domestic animals that humans have tamed since time immemorial. For the small town of Chirundu on the border with Zambia in the north, the largest and sometimes temperamental of the animal kingdom, the elephant, has become the latest addition to man’s social circles.

And like all domestics, the jumbos are given names according to their physical appearance and behaviour and they are scolded and encouraged as a means of man’s control, too.

The elephants look up to humans for food and scrounge trash bins as well.

There are hundreds of elephants in Chirundu because the dusty town lies in the heart of the Marongora National Park.

The elephants roam the town in the dry season in search of food, but the rains have been generous across the region and there is enough vegetation for wild animals.

Thus as life stirs on a typically hot Chirundu morning, visitors are bound to get an unpleasant surprise of a jumbo strolling to their uncomfortable vicinities necessitating a dash for cover.

But, hold on, this is just tame Nhekede!

Nhekede is the name given to a popular bull elephant, whose routine visit to the shopping centre is well known.

The bull elephant is crippled and moves with an awkward limp. Its right hind leg is shorter than the rest thus the name Nhekede.

“We have known Nhekede for many years and his limp has drawn that nickname. There is also Maendaenda because he sometimes vanishes for a period before resurfacing,” confides Tanyaradzwa Mvurayehore.

“We know most of the elephants that come to the shops and raid our dustbins, but new animals could be a danger as they are wild and can easily get annoyed by noise. They could even attack people at the slightest provocation because they are wild,” he said.

As usual, Nhekede does not walk alone but today people at the shopping centre are agreed that the elephants are somehow disturbed.

Suddenly the three elephants trudge across the highway after close to 20 minutes hiding behind the bushes.

“Nhekede anevaenzi nhasi (Nhekede has brought some visitors). The other two elephants are young and wild.

“They are unsettled by the noise from the vehicles, especially the trucks. I think they also have problems with the noise and smell coming from the people and they may take time to come out of the open,” Tina, a runner (an errand boy for truckers), quips.

And true to his word, it takes another 30 minutes for the elephants to emerge from the thicket and start rummaging through the trash at the shops.

It also emerges that there are two young bulls in the entourage.

Interestingly, Nhekede leads the trio while the youngest bull follows closely while getting constant nudging from the other in the rear.

The excitement from the crowd, however, dies down as the shopping centre is engulfed in a sense of caution.

While in most cases people would follow the elephants recording videos and taking pictures, they keep their distance except for a few daredevils who get some close shots of the giant mammals.

“The lead bull is common here at the shops but the other two are new and they could spell danger since they are not used to people or the noise. If one of them panics that could spell disaster for us because it can take only three minutes for the elephant to go haywire,” explains one of the people watching the animals closely.

The younger bull’s discomfort is quite evident as he sticks to Nhekede who feeds lackadaisically on sadza, discarded vegetables and all edible stuff from the bin while his colleagues keep their eyes wondering around while flapping their ears.

“When the elephant is flapping its ears slowly there is no need to panic but if it starts trumpeting and flapping its ears then the best is to take to your heels, but survival is not guaranteed,” another runner aises.

So far, so good.

It is usually good with these giant beasts with rare exceptions such as that of Mabhini who turned rowdy, killing three people in two weeks before he was put down by National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority game rangers.

“We had known that elephant for many years that some would sometimes pull his tail, especially a mentally-ill man who was known as the elephant herder until the fateful last days,” a resident, Mvurayehore said.

Mabhini is said to have turned killer in January this year, killing three people and injuring one before he was put down.

“That elephant was docile over the year until that period at the end of the year and early this year,” he said.

According to available records, a 30-year-old Chirundu woman was seriously injured after an elephant ravaged the house she was sleeping in resulting in some bricks falling on her.

A few days later, a wildlife ranger was also killed by an elephant while on patrol at the Rifa Education Centre when he encountered an elephant herd that ignored warning shots fired when they charged at the two men.

While many people have fallen victim to elephant attacks, the incident when a man who was holding a plastic bag was chased around by Mabhini before meeting his fate is still etched on the residents.

“We watched as the man, who was known in the area tried to evade the chase to no avail because when that animal charges, your fate is sealed because it is also very fast on its feet,” Mvurayehore added.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Ms Caroline Washaya-Moyo said animals, especially elephants, are easily conditioned to availability of food, water and obstacles.

She said the presence of human beings may be associated with water, artificial food (food items from vegetable gardens and even supermarkets) may show up as delicacies.

Ms Washaya-Moyo urged people to always be cautious when dealing with wild animals.

She said elephants have poor eyesight and rely more on scent propelled by the wind.

“Be self-conscious of wind direction. Avoid the wind draft reaching the elephant. One can even touch the tail of an elephant if the draft is not indicating human presence,” she said.

She said while human beings in Zimbabwe and other countries may be injured or killed by elephants, some injuries and deaths are not reported especially if they involve poaching.

“It is difficult to really say how many people get killed or injured in one year, but generally one or three may be injured while one is killed in any one year.”

Ms Washaya-Moyo said aggression by elephants is generally associated with intentional and unintentional encroachment in to the elephant’s path, territory or foraging areas.

“Human beings should always give elephants or wild animals the right of way at all times and should not interfere with calving ones, foraging activities and pathways to water points. People should always consider setting aside corridors for wildlife on their way to water points and feeding points.”

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the human-elephant conflict in Africa and Asia is due to the replacement of the elephant habitat by agriculture.

The federation says there is a battle over the ever-decreasing land as elephants are not only being “squeezed” into smaller areas while famers plant crops that elephants like.

“As a result, elephants frequently raid and destroy crops. They can be very dangerous too.

While many people in the West regard elephants with affection and admiration, the animals often inspire fear and anger in those who share their land.”

Elephants eat up to 450kg of food per day and a single elephant makes light work of a hectare of crops in a very short time.

Elephants are often killed in retaliation.

Wildlife authorities in Kenya reportedly shoot between 50 and 120 problem elephants each year and dozens of elephants are poisoned each year in oil palm plantations in Indonesia.

In order to fight the effects of the human-elephant conflict the WWF encourages use of chilli and tobacco-based deterrents to keep elephants out of fields changing farming practices — making farms easier to defend growing crops that elephants don’t like and education and improving oil palm plantation practices.

Source : The Herald