Then, just before the break of the rains the sky used to turn a molten bronze colour, and the air was sultry and oppressive. As the sun sank in the west it used to tip the peaks and ridges of the Machinga Mountains with the most beautiful colours, and I can never forget some of the sunsets I witnessed there, for they were lovely beyond the power of writing to describe or paint to portray. There is not much game high up on the Machinga range, with the exception of a good many rhinos and a few bushbuck and duiker. The higher peaks are the habitat of klip-springers ; and elephants and buffalo have their chosen tracks from the Luangwa Valley to other haunts west of the range.
When thunder and lightning used to come, how the peals of thunder would echo among the clefts and ravines of the range, and the lightning appeared to run along the rockier parts. I expect the ground there is full of ironstone in places; in the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, the same thing occurs.
While shooting on the Luangwa River in 1908, I found the spoor of a big herd of elephants on November 16. After my men and myself had followed the tracks for about four miles, we came on the herd, which consisted of quite thirty animals. Most of them were standing in some thick bush, although a few were moving about just outside it, in a patch of thick grass which had not been burned. Between myself and the elephants was a slight hollow, which at the bottom showed the sandy bed of a small stream. This was about sixty yards from the nearest of them. I could not see any very large bull and I fired at the best one I saw, which seemed to have 30lb. tusks. He was standing fairly broadside on ; so I took a line between the orifice of the ear and the eye, shooting a few inches forward of the earhole. At my shot he dropped and I thought I had brained him. Then the herd broke away in all directions, and two young bulls a little smaller in the ivories than the one I had dropped, came round at us.
We all made pretty good time to some trees in the rear. I stopped when I got to a tree about two feet in diameter, and so did the man who was carrying my cartridge bag, an Awemba named Kalenje, and he took up his position behind a tree a few paces behind me.
He then said to me that the elephant fired at was getting up, and on looking I saw it was making violent efforts to get on its legs. By this time the two young bulls had gone round towards the direction of the bolting herd, so I fired a shot at the wounded elephant which it did not seem to feel at all. As soon as it got on its legs it immediately started in our direction, for the last shot had evidently shown it where we were. Whether it was charging with intent it is difficult to say, but, judging from its demeanour and the shrill screams it gave, I think it was. Anyhow, it was coming straight for my tree, increasing its pace at every stride, and the " frou-frou " of its feet as they swept through the dry grass I still remember. After the first screams it was silent, and it held its trunk down covering its chest, making a heart shot useless.
I had in my hand a .303 sporting rifle holding ten shots in the magazine. As I had only put eight cartridges in to start with and had fired two shots, I had six shots left. As the elephant came along in a bee-line, I began firing at it, taking a steady rest against the trunk of the tree and shooting just above the eyes. He took the first two shots with a shake of his head, and the third shot, at a distance of about 20 yards, got his brain, and he lurched over on his side. With the momentum of his speed he slid for several paces along the ground, making large grooves with the bony parts of his body. I must say I was relieved to see him collapse, and so were the men, who gathered round smiling and making remarks about the way he fell.
When he came down the ground trembled with the shock, and I thought one of the tusks would be broken, but they were both sound, and eventually weighed close on 30lb. apiece. This elephant belonged to a herd that made a practice of invading the native gardens, and they certainly are more dangerous than elephants that prefer to keep away from human habitations.
Most of the elephants in Central Africa will not miss an opportunity of a good feed of maize, but they are easily scared off. Others, like the herd this animal belonged to, are left alone, and lose their fear of man and resent being interfered with.
While shooting on the west bank of the Luangwa, not very far from Kacumbe's village, which is situated close to the river on the eastern bank, I one day was following a small lot of elephants that had been feeding in a big patch of pumpkins, which they had quite destroyed. There was a good bull in this small herd, and the tracks took me into the higher ground, covered with thick patches of dense thorn bush, through which there were many game paths of elephants and buffaloes. When rounding a bend on one of these paths along which the spoor was leading us we suddenly walked right on to the elephants, which I naturally thought was the herd we were following. It was fearfully hot, they were standing in a dense bunch, and one in the centre towered above the others ; but I could not see his tusks, as two or three others were standing between. Their ears were flapping, and they swayed slightly backwards and forwards. As only fifteen paces separated us, I had to do something, and, as I could not get the heart shot, I fired behind the skull of the big bull, and then my men and I ran for all we were worth to an anthill on our left. It was just as well that we did, for the elephants ran at once, and one actually went between us and the anthill, but passed on.
Then several shrill screams vibrated through the air, and we saw a cow approaching us, accompanied by a small calf. I saw this cow was tuskless, and, as I did not wish to shoot her, as it is against the regulations to shoot cows (at least, it was at that time), I waited. After screaming, she rushed off, and I was very glad she did so. I now saw the bull getting up speed, for my first bullet had missed the brain and only dazed him. My men said : " Do not shoot him, Bwana, for he is a 'nungwa' n (tuskless elephant), so I let him go. An elephant shot in the head, unless the brain is touched, never sustains much damage, especially from a small bore. Every elephant in this small herd of nine or ten was tuskless, as far as I could see, which was rather extraordinary, but which is a fact, nevertheless. On examining the ground further on, we found that this was not the herd we were following, but another herd, which had come from a different direction, and, on taking up the spoor, we found where the first lot had been standing before they bolted on hearing my shot. This shot also disturbed a few buffalo that had been resting among the thorn scrub, and I caught a glimpse of them running away after I fired as they went off with a crash. These thorn patches are nasty places to follow elephants in, for, except on their paths, it is difficult to move quickly in the thicker parts, and the elephants seem to look on such places as refuges or sanctuaries. The natives told me that elephants are very " okali" (fierce) when disturbed in these places, and, judging from my experience, this seems to be the case.