All European males in Kenya, over the age of eighteen, were obliged to complete a six-month training course in the Kenya Regiment Training centre near Nakuru. After completing the course, I was included in a six-day trip, organised by the army paddling African dugouts down the Tana River. The Tana rises on Mount Kenya and eventually empties itself into the Indian Ocean between Lamu and Malindi.
The CO of the training centre joined the trip for the last few days and I was delegated to accompany him because I spoke Swahili.
We had been delayed and were an hour or two behind the other two canoes. Coming around a bend there were two elephants in the river. One of the two boatmen directed us to the left-hand bank of the river because it was deeper water.
“Tembu (elephant) can’t get out that side, because the bank is too steep, so will run to the other side when they see us.”
Which is indeed what happened until we came opposite the animals. One of the elephants was still in the river and he charged us.
The CO kept asking me, “Should I shoot it?”
“No Sir, just a few shots over its head. You don’t have a licence”.
The CO with his double-barrelled ‘elephant gun’, me with my 12-bore shotgun and an accompanying game ranger, using his service .303, poured shot after shot over the elephant’s head.
For those who have not been shot at, the target hears two noises: one with the bullet breaking the sound barrier as it goes over one’s head and a second with the report of the firearm.
Confronted with a very noisy barrage the elephant backed off and fled having got within ten metres. We had to pick up the boatmen, who had both ‘abandoned ship’ so to speak, preferring the risks of the hippos and crocodiles in the river to the fury of the elephant.
(A version of this episode is included in ‘No Happy Valley’ the first book of my ‘Winds of Change’ trilogy. I needed the elephant’s tusks for another part of the story, so we shot the elephant in the novel.).