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Six feet under in Suicide Month

I am standing in a shipping container that has been sunk into the ground. A hinged metal window cracks open at ground level to reveal a view of the waterhole. It is cool in here in my metal tomb, outside the heat haze is warping the air from the ground up. The temperature is holding to a solid 45 degrees.

A snapshot would have most people guessing at the Kalahari, white sand drifts on the katabatic winds, banking against dead twisted tree stumps, scorched by fire and snapped by the desperate elephants.

In the midst of this wasteland is a rhythmic tocking noise carried in waves from a small scrubby bush, emanating from an ancient lister engine, this is the only sound apart from the buzz of silence and the wind. Squinting against the white light you can make out the vague form of the pump, forcing water to the surface in cool bubbles where it flows into a large depression. These man-made waterholes are the lifeblood of this arid region not just for the elephants which arrive in excited groups steadily throughout the late afternoon, but also for the local village. The preferred holes draw as many as 800 elephants through a day. From my position at ground level I am within 5 feet of these giants.

Elephants are large, this is not a revelation but seeing elephants without the security of a vehicle makes them feel larger than ever before, magnify that experience so you are getting a dung beetles view of these lumbering goliaths at a distance of a yard and you suddenly become aware of your heart beating and controlling your breathing.

Hwange in October is a paradox. This is a man-made environment and without the waterholes supporting the elephants their huge population would crash. Dead elephants are bad PR for a country that needs all the positive news it can get. The logic untangles though when that same huge population is destroying the natural environment. For miles the trees that are left are splintered off to a height of no more than five feet. The elephants destroy the trees to sate their enormous hunger and ineffective digestion system. Until the rains break and the grass regrows we have a deadlock.