The Ghost Antelope
Mid-November: the last raindrop had just fallen. Dry season has arisen. The long green grass will rapidly wilt in order to better crackle in the first bush fires. As with every year, I set foot on Africa’s red soil after 2 months of commercial prospection in Europe. My main concern then is to find a “Caterpillar” so as to reopen trails gullied by the heavy downpour, and to increase the network. The 173000 acres hunting concession, located between Garoua and Ngaoundere, boasts varied landscapes. Built on the edge of the Faro River, the camp offers stunning views of the natural pools and beauty beyond. This idyllic setting still offers poetic inspiration and invites refreshing meditation. I will have a few thatched roofs, devoured by the voracious termites during the off-season, restored.
The first hunter of the season and his son, from Turin, arrived on the 28thof December (my thanks to them for having us supplied with delicious fresh Nile Perchs throughout their stay). For his second safari with us, my guest desired the 2 most sportive antelopes to hunt within our savannah: a Lord Derby Eland and a Western Roan.
5.00 am, 8th day of hunting. We are still chasing our main target: the Giant Eland. We travel on a dirt road leading to lateritic plateaus producing isoberlinias and gardenias. Their waxy leaves and odorous flowers are highly prized by our bovidae.
All the sudden, I spot tracks on the road. I kill the engine of my Discovery Land Rover. The trackers immediately emerge from their morning lethargy, numbed from the 16°C seasonal temperature. The numerous footprints, plant debris and droppings allow us to joyfully estimate a 30 Lord Derby herd which crossed an hour or so ago. This is our lucky day at last!
I check the wind direction: good. We then begin tracking rather enthusiastic. Footprints lead to a large muddy pond 2 miles ahead. The first sun rays light the marvelous bluish Bantadjé chain. The cooing of hundreds of turtle doves is superseded by the buzzing of bees foraging on gardenias. We cross the water point and its foul scent, bewildering a superb Bohor Reedbuck that decamped towards a non-burnt golden high grass area.
We were proceeding up the other hillside when all of a sudden, I sighted a movement in the distance. We freezed immediately. I lifted my binoculars up to spot two Major Hartebeests, calmly grazing… And a little further, a darker mass covered with a thick vegetation shield. I took a few steps to the side, alone, in order to peer properly at the massive shape. A Lord Derby Eland was standing at 300 yards ! I instinctively squat down, so does all the team. The animal I have detected is a female. Undoubtedly a straggler since the rest of the herd still remains invisible.
Action. I signal Carlos to join me. We cautiously approach, meter by meter, successively hidden by a tree trunk, a large stump, a thick bush and a small portion of high grass. We rotate between moving forward rapidly and short breaks, just enough to catch our breath and adjust our binoculars. At this time, animals benefit from the serenity of dawn to graze before resting. We had travelled a hundred yards, the female Eland had disappeared in a shallow depression of the land. So had the Major Hartebeests. I was now observing two warthogs with spectacular teeth walking up the opposite side of the hollow, when two spiral horns substituted them within my binoculars: a young Lord Derby bull!
The herd should be in the bottomland. We need to take advantage of the situation and move forward before they do. 50 yards ahead, a calcined trunk would be the perfect spot. We progress towards it, taking every precaution. I could feel Carlo’s growing sense of excitement. Another 3 yards to go. Already, two Elands rumps were wandering up the opposite side. Then, three, four, ten, the herd standing 60 yards downwards.
What a tremendous spectacle! We let our eyes and souls be filled with this extraordinary sight, forgetting our quest for a time, overwhelmed by great emotion. It is so rare to come across Giant Elands under such circumstances. It is nearly too easy. Nature is intriguing and fascinating.
Just a bit back, three animals cover themselves with mud, picking dirt up with their massive horns: three very big bulls! One of them, a heavy coiled trophy with a powerful neck and black dewlap, joins the rest of the herd with a majestic pace. I point him out to Carlo.
Unfortunately, at that moment, he passed behind a calf and his mother. It was therefore impossible to shoot. The two Hartebeests located us and were staring without respite. It was only a matter of time before they give early warning of our presence.
We were so close. In a few seconds, we were about to forget all the strong efforts of the past days, omit the endured disappointments of time-consuming and ultimately unsuccessful trackings, heal the wounds on our knees, scarred while approaching game repeatedly.
Yet, two spooky Hartebeests were about to reverse the situation. One of them dilates his nostrils and whistles loudly, awakening the attention of the whole herd. The reaction is immediate. The Elands, such as one army moving to defensive formation, gather in circle to peer at all directions. The bulls find refuge in the middle of the herd. The Hartebeests nervously whistle once more. The Elands bugle, their eyes protruding. Our Giant bull only shows his white stripe harnessed rump. His impressive stature dominates any other. I show him to Carlo and suggest him to shoot in this sparsely noble area. We risk losing all the opportunities if we do not stop him with a spine shot. Carlo rises meticulously the cannon of his mat 416, rests on a tree trunk, aims. Seconds are endless. The gun cracks. The echo of the impact reaches us. The Lord rears up. The herd startles and trots in chaos, heading all together towards the mountain chain. The wounded animal crawls and stands out from the rest of the herd. Carlo fires again and makes the Eland tilt over, which creates an impressive cloud of dust.
An overwhelming joy invades our bodies as we embrace. Carlo does not fully realize yet while the euphoric trackers join us. As we get closer to the “ghost”, they go around him and cover his eyes with dirt. They do not want to be recognized by his soul when escaping the body of the animal. Samaki, “the elder”, contorts in a traditional dance. He apologizes to the reincarnated spirit within the Giant.
Back to camp, champagne will be flowing tonight. Tom-toms will resonate under the Milky Way. We have drenched our thirst for authenticity.
Tomorrow is another day…
As a gift to a friend or to treat yourself, order your copy as of now.