The Joys and Dangers of Exploring Africa on the Back of an Elephant

Renowned travel writer Paul Theroux journeys through Botswana’s spectacular, wildlife-rich wetlands

At remote Abu Camp, visitors can hitch a ride into one of the great water holes of Africa. (Sergio Pitamitz / Biosphoto / Minden Pictures)
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“Etosha’s another story.”

For him, Etosha was mass tourism in a large, regulated game park; busloads of gawkers, herds of budget-minded tourists, sprawling hotel compounds.

Michael said that he would stay in touch, and he did. I got news of Nathan and Collet and Big Joe taking a trip to New York. These three friends, bonded by their months of working together at Abu, stayed at the elegant Pierre Hotel and were interviewed by awed journalists about their life in the bush and their elephant experiences with the herd at Abu. They visited zoos in Toronto, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, looking at elephants and studying the breeding programs. They were photographed and quoted, as though they themselves were marvels from Africa. They were away for six weeks.

On his return to Abu, Nathan Jamieson began working again with his elephant, Sukiri. Only a few days after he arrived back he left her untethered, and when he walked a little distance to fetch her chains and manacles, turning his back on her, she followed him in the nodding and plodding way of an elephant on a mission, and knocked him flat, crushing him to death with her huge head. Nathan was 32 years old.

Later, Michael told me, “He died doing what he loved.” I remembered how happy Nathan had been at Abu Camp, how fond of the elephants, and how much he knew of them. Perhaps it was true that he’d had a happy death.

On hearing of Nathan’s fate, the Botswana government ordered that Sukiri be destroyed. Michael Lorentz vigorously opposed this, and thus began an imbroglio that ended with Michael quitting Abu for good, Abu resuming under new management, and Sukiri, along with the two elephants that had been orphaned with her, being trucked to Johannesburg and flown in elephantine crates to the United States, where they are now housed together in an exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo.


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