Africa Guide
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Jacques the Jack Russell confronts African Elephant

Written by Matt Dry - trip leader

Jacques the Jack Russell
Jacques the Jack Russell

Not all campsites along the Overlanding routes have dogs. The ones that do, however, somehow seem more like home. The canines come to greet the truck yapping and shaking their fuzzy rear-ends in a show of unbridled enthusiasm upon your arrival. Whether it be Mufasa II, the Staffie, and his sidekick, Sam, the chunky Labrador at Fiddler’s Creek racing up to the trucks with impossibly large rocks lodged in their mouths, or the funny sausage dogs at Eureka Campsite outside of Lusaka who like to leap into your lap the minute you sit down by your fire, these animals add an element of hominess to the places like no other element of the campsites. Then, of course, there’s the Jack Russell Terrier, Jacques, at Thebe outside of Chobe in Kasane, who sees himself as the Napoleon of his domain, a dog who demands attention on his time, and treats you like he is a royal guest in your campsite.

I can’t really blame Jacques for his attitude. He lives in a world where he is just big enough to make a fine meal for a Martial Eagle, a hyena, or wild dogs coming down to the Chobe River for a late night supping, not to mention, when the river is in flood, has to check his doghouse for crocodiles. With a serious size deficiency one cannot survive the fell clutch of circumstance in Africa without a massive chip on your tiny shoulder. One would think, however , on a continent where size matters most in the Natural world, that there would be a point where having a Napoleon Complex would seem counter-productive to perpetuating one’s existence. One would think….

Nick and I are walking back to the lodge for respite from the long day on the river. I hear a branch snap off to our left. I stop and peer through the trees at the fence that lines the property to keep out hippo, hyena, and elephants among others that come down to the river to drink. It is most interesting when the elephants are just the other side of the fence, their huge bulk dissolving into the darkness beyond the lights of the campsite. It is even more interesting when the elephants are on the inside of the fence.

“@#$%*!” I exclaim as Nick joins me at my shoulder. “That’s on this side of the fence!” We both stare at the bull elephant just to confirm its possibly hazardous existence. “You better go tell the passengers, Rafiki.” Nick says emphatically. “That is an outstanding idea.” I agree. Nick and I run back to our campsite where a group of eight reluctant bed-goers sit around the fire-pit chatting. They look up at us, aware of our excitement. “What is it?” a passenger asks. I can’t help but smile broadly, “Anyone want to see an elephant inside the campsite?” They jump from their seats like hungry children invited to a candy store.

I go over some safety precautions before I take them over to a viewing point behind a line of trees that offers us cover and an exit if the elephant dislikes our presence. We line up behind the trees and see the lumbering behemoth masticating on an Acacia, uncaring of our presence 40 meters from him. He can certainly smell and hear us but, given that he found his way inside the fence, he is most likely very used to humans being in his close proximity.

We are ogling the pachyderm no longer than a minute before Jacques comes trotting up from the darkness behind us. His panting is more than audible in the silence between us and the animal. It is even louder for the elephant. The bull turns toward us and flaps his huge ears open. Jacques moves through the bushes at our feet, the hair prickling on his neck. Napoleon has come to the front of his ranks. There is a moment of tense silence and then Jacques curls his lips back from his canines. He growls. “Jacques, no!!!” I hiss and try to grab him. He bolts for the elephant , barking like a hound loosed from hell.

I want to cover my eyes not to see what most assuredly will be the bull stomping down and turning Jacques into a stick of furry gum on the bottom of his massive foot. It is impossible, however, not to watch Jacques , the ferocious, dimunitive David race up to the world’s largest, land-living Goliath and fearlessly voice his displeasure at the elephant’s trespassing our borrowed home. The bull raises it trunk and trumpets down at the canine in anger and, amazingly, fear. Someone next to me draws in her breath and brings her hands to her face. “Oh, no!!!…”

Jacques races around the elephant’s feet barking with all of his six kilograms. Six versus Six-thousand kilograms. The elephant tries valiantly to keep his eye on Jacques’ miniature white form but he cannot. The little yapping blur at his feet is a whirlwind of annoying noise and movement. What Jacques lacks in size he has in speed. Unbelievably, it is too much for the elephant. With a final toss of his huge head and an ear-splitting trumpet, the bull turns on his tail and speeds away as fast as he can move his massive bulk.

As the elephant disappears into the darkness Jacques stops just inside the light and continues to bark like Cerberus at the gates of Hades. When the sound of the crashing elephant fades, Jacques, tiny and triumphant , proudly comes trotting back to us. He stops before us and wags his stumpy little tail. We just stare at him in silence, shocked to the core of our preconceptions of the logic of size in Nature.

Who says size matters? Definitely not Jacques….

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