Elephant Song

A Novel by Wilbur Smith

..'Elephant Song' is an exciting novel dealing with poaching, murder, and revenge. The story goes into great detail, as Wilbur Smith often does, on the many problems facing the African elephant. These include the problem of limited protected lands where the elephant can safely roam and the necessary culling (destroying) of elephant herds to keep the population in check and finance the government parks.

..Daniel Armstrong is a nature film director who is filming his friend Johnny Nzou, a park ranger in Chiwewe National Park, as he culls an elephant herd for the good of all the other wildlife in the park. The amazing beasts are driven to the waiting ranger, his hired help, and the running video camera by a plane to meet their doom.

..''At thirty yards Johnny Nzou mounted the rifle to his shoulder and leaned forward to absorb the recoil. There was no telescopic sight mounted above the blue steal barrel. For close work like this he was using open express sights.'

..'Since its introduction in 1912, thousands of sport and professional hunters had proved the .35 Holland & Holland to be the most versatile and effective rifle ever to have been brought to Africa. It had all the virtues of inherent accuracy and moderate recoil, while the 300-grain solid bullet was a ballistic marvel, with a flat trajectory and extraordinary penetration.'

..'Johnny aimed at the head of the leading cow, at the crease of the trunk between her myopic old eyes, The report was sharp as the lash of a bullwhip, and an ostrich feather of dust flew from the surface of her weathered grey skin at the precise point upon her skull at which he had aimed.'

..'The bullet slashed through her head as easily as a steel nail driven through a ripe apple. It obliterated the top of her brain, and the cow's front legs folded under her, and Daniel felt the earth jump under his feet as she crashed down in a cloud of dust.'

..'Johnny swung his aim onto the second cow, just as she came level with the carcass of her sister. He reloaded without taking the butt of the rifle from his shoulder, merely flicking the bolt back and forward. The spent brass case was flung high in a glinting parabola and he fired again. The sound of the two rifle shots blended into each other; they were fired so swiftly as to cheat the ear into hearing a single prolonged detonation'

..'Once again the bullet struck exactly where it had been aimed and the cow died as the other had done, instantaneously. Her legs collapsed and she dropped and lay on her belly with her shoulder touching that of her sister. In the center of each of their foreheads a misty pink plume erupted from the tiny bullet holes.'

..'Behind them the herd was thrown into the confusion. The bewildered beasts milled and circled, treading the grass flat and raising a curtain of dust that swirled about them, blanketing the scene so their forms looked ethereal and indistinct in the dust cloud. the calves huddled for shelter beneath their mothers' bellies, their ears flattened against their skulls with terror, and they were battered and kicked and thrown about by the frantic movements of their dams.'

..'The rangers closed in, firing steadily. The sound of gunfire was a long continuous rattle, like hail on a tin roof. they were shooting for the brain. At each shot one of the animals flinched or flung its head up as the solid bullet cracked the bone of the skull with the sound of a well struck golf ball. At each shot one of the animals went down dead or stunned. those killed cleanly, and those were the majority, collapsed at the back legs first and dropped with the dead weight of a maze sack. When the bullet missed the brain, but passed close to it, the elephant reeled and staggered and went down kicking to roll on its side with a terrible despairing moan and grope helplessly at the sky with lifted trunk.'

..'One of the young calves was pinned beneath its mother's collapsing carcass and lay broken-backed and squealing in a mixture of pain and panic. Some of the elephant found themselves hemmed in by a palisade of fallen animals and they reared up and tried to scramble over them. the marksmen shot them down so that they fell upon the bodies of those already dead, while others tried to climb over these and were in turn shot down.'

..'It was swift. Within minutes all of the adult animals were down, lying close together of piled upon one another in bleeding mounds and hillocks. Only the calves were still racing in bewildered circles, stumbling over the bodies of the dead and dying, squealing and tugging at the carcasses of their mothers.'

..'The riflemen walked forward slowly, a tightening ring of gunmetal around the decimated herd. They fired and reloaded and fired again as they closed in. They picked off the calves, and when there remained not a single standing animal, they moved quickly into the herd, scrambling over the gigantic sprawling bodies, pausing only to fire a finishing bullet into each huge bleeding head. Most often there was no response to the second bullet in the brain, but occasionally an elephant not yet dead shuddered, straightening its limbs, and blinked its eyes at the shot, then slumped lifelessly.'

..'Within six minutes of Johnny's first shot, a silence fell over the killing ground on Long Vlie. Only the men's ear's still rang to the brutal memory of gunfire. There was no movement; the elephant lay in windrows like wheat behind the blades of the mower, and the dry earth soaked up the blood. The rangers were still standing apart from one another, subdued and awed by the havoc they had wrought, staring with remorse at the mountain of the dead. Fifty elephant, two hundred tons of carnage.'

..'Johnny Nzou broke the tragic spell that held them. He walked slowly to where the two old cows lay at the head of the herd. They lay side by side, shoulders touching, with thier legs folded neatly under them, kneeling as though still alive with only the pulsing fountain of lifeblood from their foreheads to spoil the illusion.'

..'Johnny set the butt of the rifle on the ground and leaned upon it, studying the two old matriarchs for a long regretful moment. He was unaware that Jock was filming him. His actions and his words were completely unstudied and unrehearsed'

.."Hamba gahle, Amakhulu," he whispered. "Go in peace, old grandmothers. You are together in death as you were in life. Go in peace, and forgive us for what we have done to your tribe." (pages 17-20)*

..Shortly after this massacre, the elephants are stripped of their hides, meat and ivory, all of which is sold to support the park and it's employees.

..The story starts getting really interesting when Johnny and his family are murdered and the culled ivory is stolen. Daniel vows to get revenge on the perpetrators of these crimes, and his revenge leads him, and you, around the world. Definitely one of Wilbur's best!

Smith, Wilbur. 'Elephant Song' Random House Inc. NY, NY. 1991.