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Treasure Hunt

Chad Cocking | Wildlife

For over three years we have been driving around the eastern portions of Tanda Tula looking for hidden treasure. Whenever Scotch and I jogged through the area, one of us would always speculate as to where we might find the treasure, and, in our energised state, suggested that next time we had no guests we should come and look for it properly on foot. I had my own suspicions as to where the treasure lay based on some CSI investigations that would have made Heratio Caine proud. However, as more and more time passed, my hopes of ever finding what we were after started to wane… but deep down I knew that maybe one day, it could happen.

The treasure came into existence when one of our most loved emerging tuskers – an enormous elephant bull named Apollo – broke off one of his tusks. We had seen him drinking at Machaton Dam on the 11 September 2018 with two tusks, but when we found him in the same place two days later, he was one tusk short! We knew that the tusk had to be lying somewhere around the dam and as we had seen his tracks in the intervening period heading past the Star Beds sleep out platform, my logical deduction was that the tusk had broken off somewhere to the west, around the area known as Giraffe Plains. At one stage, I even attempted to follow the 4-day old elephant tracks. It was at that point in my guiding career that I realised, once and for all, why I sat behind the steering wheel and not on the tracker seat – I couldn’t even follow his tracks for more than 100 metres before losing them in the long grass! Still, during the weeks that passed, I kept a keen eye out for the missing tusk.

On many occasions, I would recount this story to my guests. I always thought that one day I would either be driving off road and stumble upon the tusk, or that perhaps another elephant would find it, and, as so often happens when they come across the remains of a fallen elephant, they would pick it up in their trunk and carry it closer to the road where one day we might find it. Yet time passed and none of my predictions came to fruition.

Then last week, I received a message from a friend at a neighbouring camp with the simple words, “I have found Apollo’s tusk…” I replied with the even simpler words of “B*** S#!%” But my disbelief at the claim was promptly dismissed when a photo of the long-lost treasure appeared on the screen. It was true… and it was also in a very different area from where Scotch and I intended to spend our free time looking for it! Although it was in the vicinity of Machaton Dam, it was found equidistant – but in the opposite direction – of where I had begun (and quickly ended) my initial, futile search. This also happened to be an area that I have driven through hundreds of times in the past three years. The difference now was that wild fire had burnt through the area, and the long grass that blanketed the lower levels of the eastern Timbavati was no longer hindering the view. With this tawny screen removed, Greg had spotted something unusually white and unusually large lying in the bush. I can only imagine how his heart must have started racing as he wandered over for a closer look…

When I arrived back at Tanda Tula Safari Camp after my leave and walked into the office on the first morning, I forgot to greet my colleagues as my eyes caught the sight of the tusk lying in the office. One of the main reasons for my interest in finding the tusk was purely to see just how much it weighed, and on lifting it up, it was impressively heavy. My thoughts wandered to how it must have felt for Apollo walking around with two tusks of that weight…  maybe he was almost relieved to be free of them?

I immediately ran home to fetch my scale, stood on it to weigh myself, and then grabbed the tusk and stood on the scale again. 20.4 kilograms. That is not a small piece of ivory, yet after lifting it up, I was sure it was going to be at least 5-10 kilos heavier. But that could be due to my distinct lack of muscles – or my body in general now that I think of it! It’s also incredible to think that even though this piece of the tusk weighed 20kgs, it was just that: a piece. We had deduced that there was another fragment missing, as the section we found didn’t “fit” the shape of his tusk post-break.  Combine this with the fact that a fair percentage (as much as 30 percent in some elephants) of the tusk is embedded within the skull of the elephant and that the tusk had a few kilograms more from the lip edge to the tusk tip, and you can estimate that Apollo’s tusk – when complete – would have weighted around 35-40kg. This would leave him just short of a title of a “tusker” (defined as having tusks weighting over 45kg or 100 pounds each), but with a few years left in his life yet, there is no doubt that he would have attained that status had he not broken both off.

Tusker or not, Apollo is still one of the most impressive elephants around. I found it fitting that on that same day that I arrived back and awed over his tusk, who should arrive at the waterhole? None other than the gentle giant himself, back at Tanda Tula for his annual visit.

So, although I was not the one to proudly find Apollo’s lost treasure, I am just delighted that someone did and that we got to appreciate his impressive ivory once again. I wonder now if I need to turn my attention to finding those long-lost Kruger Rands, although if my present attempts to search for hidden treasures are anything to go by, I should start off by looking in the complete opposite direction to where I think those gold Rands should be!

So, until next time, keep on searching for hidden treasures!





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