TSAVO (Xinhua) — Red elephants in Tsavo, located in the southern part of the country, Kenya’s largest national park. These elephants’ skin colour is no different from that of other elephants, but sometimes their hides are stained red from the park’s red soil, during their dust baths. Tsavo Ecosystem boasts the largest elephant population in Kenya and is home to approximately 12,570 elephants (figure of 2011), about one-third of all the elephants in Kenya. XINHUA PHOTO – GUO QIAN
We, this is my husband Horst and me, are well in our seventies and live in Kenya for almost 20 years and we have travelled across much of it for close to 50 years.
We love it with all its challenges.
It is home.
Last week we had planned a small safari, visiting friends.
Travelling via Malindi we started on a short trip through Tsavo East.
From Saturday, the 22nd until Tuesday, the 25th March 2014 we spent three nights at Nana and Mark Tozer’s Rock Side Camp with our friends Ursula and Sabina.
Rock Side Camp is one of our favourite spots in Kenya.
Not only is it run by dear friends in a beautiful space (just outside the National Park), it is a location long and well known to us (we have been there when it was founded in the ‘seventies).
Furthermore Rock Side Camp is relatively close to Mombasa.
That always promises a comparably short and convenient journey.
Maungu is the turn off to the camp from the Mombasa-Nairobi road.
Once you have left Mombasa behind it is a leisurely one and a half to two hour drive.
Nowadays we prefer short trips.
When we decided to head back home to Mombasa on Tuesday we looked forward to our drive through Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary.
Rob Dodson kindly allows us to trespass the ranch for a “private game drive” when we are up there.
Rukinga seems so undisturbed compared to parts of Tsavo.
We love and enjoy driving through the bush on our way home to the coast.
It was a beautiful drive, untouched bush, and lots of animals.
Time didn’t change, “like the old days”, we thought sentimentally.
A thought we always have while visiting Rukinga Ranch. We know we should have rather realized the conservation efforts show so well.
Head held low like a battering ram the elephant drove its tusks into our car. The tusks easily penetrated the car’s body.
Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary is a success.
We travelled slowly, because Horst wanted to enjoy the drive as well.
We had enough time at our hands.
And then there was that huge elephant in the middle of the road, approximately 100m ahead of us.
We halted the car, wanted to let him trespass.
But the instant he saw us, he reared on his hind legs twice and charged.
No mock attack, he clearly came for us.
No time to think, time to react.
No space to turn. Horst’s only chance to hold or increase the distance between the elephant and us was to turn off the path and drive through the dense (get stuck…) and thorny (get a flat tire…) bush.
While he tried to find a way for the car I kept a close eye on the animal that covered there remaining distance between us in unbelievable speed.
The elephant approached us like a tank, precisely and clearly aggressive.
I was frightened.
Finally I was looking into his eyes, a gaze I will never forget.
I knew he would get us.
Head held low like a battering ram he drove his tusks into our car.
We misinterpreted the track we were on, drove off and got stuck in a supposedly dried out creek bed that turned into one of those well-known red cotton soil traps. Stuck in the middle of nowhere at nightfall we settled to sleep in the car
They penetrated the car’s body easily. It jumped, the two-ton Land Cruiser jumped.
But it remained upright and we managed to get free.
After the impact we left the elephant behind or probably he let us go.
We had been lucky: the tusks hadn’t destroyed any vital part of the car.
Once we had regained our breath and put enough distance between that angry animal and us we found a track that seemed to lead east towards the Mombasa highway.
Later we were told that in exactly the area we had been attacked poachers had recently killed four elephants.
That elephant had been courageous and determined for a reason.
When we felt safely back on track the weather seemed to turn against us.
We made slow progress.
We had lost time, as it was afternoon already.
It got pitch black and heavy rain turned the roads instantly into small rivulets.
It got dark earlier than usual.
We misinterpreted the track we were on, drove off and got stuck in a supposedly dried out creek bed that turned into one of those well-known red cotton soil traps.
Stuck in the middle of nowhere at nightfall we settled to sleep in the car.
Of course: no network to inform our friends and call for help.
What would go through their minds?
We were exhausted, and tried to coil up in the seats.
Africa provided a full on night in the bush (no civilisation, no human sound, but hyena laughter and all).
Under the given circumstances we couldn’t enjoy it as much as we would have another time.
But we heard two men talking. Two herdsmen looking for a lost cow hit our spot. That was a miracle! They immediately understood what happened although we couldn’t communicate. With a ‘panga’ and a spear they dug us out
It was raining all night. Next morning, the rain stopped. We checked our tools: No spade, no nothing.
Well, we hadn’t planned to head into the bush overnight …
After almost 50 years in Kenya such a beginner’s mistake.
It got even better: only one (small!) bottle of water, some red wine.
The car solidly sat on the rear axle, wheels spinning.
The entire day we tried everything we could do to set the car free, but at the end we knew: a second night in the bush.
The following morning, this is Thursday, we heard the noise of a helicopter, but we couldn’t see it.
The car and us were well hidden below a canopy of trees – after the rains everything is lush and green.
“Our friends from Rukinga are looking for us”, we thought.
“We have to light a fire.”
When it was about to burn the helicopter had left.
But we heard two men talking.
Two herdsmen looking for a lost cow hit our spot.
That was a miracle!
They immediately understood what happened although we couldn’t communicate.
With a ‘panga’ and a spear they dug us out, lying in the mud under the car for hours.
We lost the rear bumper in the process.
The men got rid of an entire thorn-bush (roots and all) below the rear axle and were talking non-stop in a language we did not understand.
They were Somali.
Two ‘wazungu’ in a big truck had to trust and rely on two Somali with a ‘panga’ and a spear.
That makes you feel humble.
Finally – after midday – they got up, mimicking:
“It’s free. Start the engine.”
And the car moved.
How to describe our feelings!
The two herdsmen hacked a route free for the car to move on.
Back on track the two men insisted to accompany us until we safely reached Mackinnon Road.
From Mackinnon Road they had to return to the bush on foot to look for their cattle.
Thank you, thank you, you two Somali guys!
Back on track the two men insisted to accompany us until we safely reached Mackinnon Road. From Mackinnon Road they had to return to the bush on foot to look for their cattle. Thank you, thank you, you two Somali guys!
First thing we bought at Mackinnon Road petrol station was water, what a treat!
I took a photo of our rescuers and the battled car.
Next thing: we called our friends.
What an outcry! “Thank God you are alive! What happened?”
Shortly thereafter the police stopped us on the highway:
“Are you Mr. Horst Krier? We know you have been missed.”
The officer spoke to his boss in Voi. “Are they well?”
“Yes sir! The search was successfully completed.”
And here is what happened after it had been realized that we were long past our supposed arrival time.
Ali, our loyal employee, called our friends Ursula Höhn and Gertie Leichum to let them know we hadn’t come home.
Next Nana Tozer and Joe Leichum were involved.
A massive man search initiated by Joe Leichum, our close friend since 60 (incredible) years, was started on Wednesday, 26th March.
First he called Bryce Cowan in Malindi, another close friend who informed Rob Dodson (Vice President African Operations) and Jamie Hendriksen (Operations Manager) from Kenya Wildlife Works, Rukinga Ranch and Wildlife Sanctuary that we didn’t arrive in Mombasa.
On Wednesday they sent out 40 rangers and six cars.
Rob was looking for us with his Gyrocopter and Jamie searched nearly 24 hours from his car.
Later they told us, they could follow our tracks, people in remote ‘bomas’ had seen us.
But they always came late.
Reconstructing our route we must have been close to the Tanzanian border after the elephant attack, ‘shifta’ country.
Of course they had to stop searching when it became dark.
Thursday morning they went on and had been very close aswe had heard their Gyrocopter.
While the Rukinga Ranch was searched thoroughly by Rob, Jamie and their team – Bruce Boekle and Assad Kashmiri checked by car the road between Kilifi, Kaloleni and Batchuma (Buchuma Gate) personally, including every police station and every hospital.
Our mobile phones were tracked – but last time they had locked in was on Tuesday.
It seemed to the people searching that we had disappeared without leaving a trace.
Joe contacted and informed “God and the world” as we say in German: Kenyan Police, German Embassy, German Federal Foreign Office, all were alerted.
A lot of mobile phones ran hot.
For more than 48 hours we couldn’t be found although many, many people were looking for us.
It left room for speculation and worries.
What an impressing effort trying to locate and rescue us.
What a wonderful teamwork.
Kenya sports a lot of headlines about corruption, poaching, carjacking, theft and religious attacks.
We met another Kenya: networking, helpful, loyal and caring. We are very grateful. THANK YOU Kenya, friends and helpers! YOU ROCK!
Anne and Horst Krier, Mtwapa, Kenya North Coast.