My Apingi Kingdom - Paul du Chaillu

Elephant Hunting


I hear that elephants are plentiful, and their heavy footprints are seen in a great many places in the forest. Antelopes and wild boars are also plentiful. I must have a peep at the elephants. I must go after them in the forest. I must kill one. Now is the time, for I know that a herd is in the forest, and, to judge by the natives pointing to the height of the sun to show the time we should find them if we start early in the morning at sunrise, I suppose that they must be about a four hours' walk from the village.

I have taken my best rifle; I have loaded it with steel-pointed bullets; I give to each of the two Apingi who are to accompany me a spare gun to carry, take food for the day, and we start.

After a while we came to fresh footprints, which evidently had been made where we were the day before; we followed their tracks. It was easy, for there must have been a herd of ten or twelve together. Oh how I wished I had one of my Bakalai friends with me, as we might have killed several elephants. We continued to follow the tracks, being careful, from time to time, to break a bough of a young tree, and drop on the ground a handful of green twigs, so as to make sure that we could find the way back again.

At last I thought I heard a noise, and gave a kind of cluck to stop my two Apingi friends, and raised my finger to my mouth to insure silence. There was no mistake. I could hear a booming sound, as if it was the heavy trampling of elephants. We advanced carefully. I could feel my heart beating violently, and I could almost hear its pulsations. These African elephants are ugly customers. The nimblest and coolest hunter is sometimes caught by them. Had not my splendid friend Querlaouen been killed by an elephant? Poor fellow! I had been thinking of him these last two hours. I often think of him. I thought also of friend Aboko, and wondered where he was. Perhaps he has been sold, said I to myself, or he may have been killed for witchcraft. Some of you may perhaps remember that Aboko was a great elephant hunter.

Such were my thoughts as I advanced into the jungle to meet the elephants. How lightly I stepped on the ground, for fear of making a noise and alarming the huge beasts.

I must remain still, for I discover that the elephants are retracing their steps; they are coming back by the same road. What does this mean? They are certainly unaware of our being so close to them. My friends the Apingi begin to show fear, and make me a sign that they are going to ascend a tree. They had hardly made the sign than they had climbed a pretty large tree, getting up among the lianes which hung from its branches. They were about twenty feet from the ground, resting on a heavy limb, and looked in the direction where we heard the noise.

Looking round, I saw close to them a nice tree, with a very thick trunk, just near the path the elephants had made by trampling the young saplings down. How to get up? Suddenly I saw a heavy liane, or creeper, hanging down from one of its branches. I slung my gun on my shoulder, seized the liane, and soon found myself some twenty feet up, between two immense limbs which diverged from the trunk. I stood between them, resting my back on one of the limbs. I was just in a right position if the elephants were to come back by the same path they had made. The noise becomes greater; they break down young trees as they advance, to eat their leaves. I hear their footsteps distinctly. They are coming by the same road.

I keep a sharp look-out through the dense foliage. The young trees begin to move, and I know that the elephants are near. The bull is in sight. I count nine elephants. The bull suddenly stops, sniffs the air, and elevates his trunk. He has smelt danger, no doubt. Oh dear! I can not aim well on account of being too high. I am sorry. I wish I had remained on the ground.

I shoulder my rifle. I aim at the bull, wishing to shoot him through the ear. I take good aim—bang! As ill luck would have it, just as I touched the trigger my foot slipped, and the bullet struck the elephant in the head, wounding him badly, but not killing him. He immediately charges on the tree, when suddenly he perceives my two Apingi friends, and makes a rush for their tree, tearing down the vines which hang from it. I fire again, and the ball hits him on the hip. He gives a tremendous kick, raises his hind legs up, and plunges into the forest with fearful noise, tearing every thing that opposed him, and leaving tracks of blood behind. I was happy to see the last of him, as I did not feel at home on the tree. If I had been on the ground I would have probably killed him. The other elephants, when they heard the first gun, dashed into the forest at a fearful speed, demolishing every thing before them. When the Apingi came down from their tree, they looked almost dead with fright. I was not satisfied with myself, for I wished I had "bagged" the elephant.

I came down from my place of concealment, and for the remainder of the day went after the other elephants; but they had fled far away, and I was at length obliged to give up the chase. We made our camp that night in the woods. I lighted a fire without trouble. We made a nice shelter with leaves, for we had rain almost every night; and, surrounded by bright fires, we lay down to sleep. The leopards were prowling about, so we did not all dare to sleep at once. One must keep watch, and see that the fires were bright. We had no trouble in doing this, as we had collected a great quantity of fire-wood.

The next morning we returned to Remandji. My two Apingi told marvelous stories about my gun, and what a kicking the elephant made when he received a bullet in his hind quarter. Every one laughed heartily, and some of the villagers prepared to go into the forest to hunt for the wounded elephant, for they say he has surely died. I should not wonder if he should be found dead somewhere in the jungle in a few days.

The following day I went hunting again. Okabi was my only companion. Okabi had taken with him four of his dogs, and we had great hopes of killing some wild boars. Suddenly the dogs, which were running in the forest, appeared excited, as if they were on the track of game, and the four were soon out of sight. Soon afterward we heard them barking, which at last became less and less distinct, till the sound was entirely lost. "Yes," said I to Okabi, "there must be game in the forest; what can it be?" "I can not tell," said Okabi. I fully expected to hear the barking of the dogs come once more toward us, for these dogs were so trained as to drive the game in the direction of the hunters. We were not mistaken. A little after we heard the barking of the dogs, but once more it gradually grew fainter and fainter, and all became silent. Okabi shouted all the time in Apingi to the dogs to come back, so that they might know the direction in which we were. All continued silent. We waited for an hour; the same silence still prevailed, and, we concluded that the game had been fleeter than the dogs, and had given them the slip. It might have been an antelope, and perhaps it had crossed some stream; but then these native dogs are not afraid of water, and they would have gone in pursuit. Perhaps it might have been a chimpanzee. In fact, we did not know what game it was, and Okabi and I wished we knew.

The dogs are at last coming back. We hear their footsteps in the jungle, and now one is in sight. But hark! I hear a howl of pain from one of them, as if it had been seized by a wild beast. We are on the qui vive. I cock my gun. Who knows but that there may be a gorilla close by, or perhaps a fierce leopard has sprung upon the dog. It may be a wild beast with which I have never been acquainted. But never mind; I am ready; my gun is loaded for big game. I look round. The three dogs bark, and I cautiously go in their direction. What meets my eyes? An immense python, that had been lying in wait by a little rivulet, coiled round a tree, no doubt waiting for some gazelle or other game to come and drink, had sprung and coiled itself round the poor dog, and was drawing itself tighter and tighter round his body. I rush forward with Okabi. The snake at the same time had seen us, and seemed, to all appearances, not to know what to do. I did not like to fire, lest I should kill the poor dog that was struggling in its folds. Okabi, taking the cutlass he had by his side, goes to the rescue, and cuts the body of the snake in two. The iron grip of his fold gives way, and the dog, appearing half dead, lies prostrate on the ground. It had been almost squeezed to death. The two parts of the body of the big python, or huge African boa, still quivered and wriggled almost as if it was still alive. One blow more from Okabi's cutlass, and one half is divided in two again, and with the butt-end of my gun I smash his head.

We were too busy with the snake first to look after the dog; but, after killing the reptile, we came to poor doggy. I took him to the border of the little rivulet, and sprinkled him with water, in order to see if we could not revive him. But all we did was of no avail. He had been squeezed too long (though but a short time) in the folds of the snake. In a second or two his eyes became dim, and after a few struggles of the limbs and gasps for breath, the poor dog died. Okabi was furious, for it was a trained dog. We took with us the snake, which measured fifteen feet in length.