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Diamonds And Dust: 16 - The Tusks

…“I’m hoping you can help me. I have a little problem. I’d like you to have a look at this,” he says walking back to his Landrover.

I follow, wondering what it is he wants to show me.

He opens the back and I look in. There is a green tarp covering something. He pulls back the tarp, and lying there are two huge elephant tusks…

But what to do with those tusks? Malcolm Bertoni continues his extraordinary story of working for a diamond mining company in Namibia. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

I’m working in the workshop one morning and I hear a vehicle pull up outside and in walks this tall guy, about 35 or so.

He introduces himself. “Hi I’m L_,” he says sticking out a paw. “Are you X_?”

“That’s me,” I reply. “What can I do you for?”

“I’m hoping you can help me. I have a little problem. I’d like you to have a look at this,” he says walking back to his Landrover.

I follow, wondering what it is he wants to show me.

He opens the back and I look in. There is a green tarp covering something. He pulls back the tarp, and lying there are two huge elephant tusks.

“Holy s---,” I say looking at the tusks. “Where the hell did you get these?” as I pick up and inspect one tusk. They must have weighed 35 to 40 pounds each and the ivory looked clean and smooth without any major cracks and chips.

L_ quickly covered the tusks again and closed the back door. “I shot an elephant.”

“What? You’re kidding me.”

“No, seriously.”

So we went into the workshop and I made us some coffee while L_ told me his story.

It went something like this:

L_ was working as a geologist assistant at the time. They were right up north, near the border between Angola and South West. Six of them were out in the bush doing their usual work of collecting samples, surveying and placing markers on all the prominent hills. The usual stuff that geos do. They would go out bush for about a week at a time and then return to a base camp that was set up near one of the towns; I can’t remember which one.

Now to get a picture of the area, you must understand that this was real frontier country. Roads were virtually non-existent. There were only one or two small towns, few people and fewer government organisations such as police. So it was possible to do a few things that one couldn’t do elsewhere.

The region borders on a big park called the Etosha Pan National Park. To the east is the Kaokoveld, to the west is the Skeleton Coast and to the north is Ovamboland.

There is also (then anyway) a lot of game and wildlife. Lots of different species of antelope, hyena, cheetah, leopard, lion, giraffe, rhino and, of course, elephant, which is the main focus of this tale.

Now L_ had a rifle with him. A big rifle. It was a .300 magnum I think. Powerful enough to kill an elephant. One might think that it was unnecessary for anyone to have a gun and pretend to be a big game hunter, but it was after all Africa. It was the thing to do at that time and we were all part of that psyche.

Anyway, L_ always kept his rifle with him. You never know, you might get attacked by a gaggle of marauding lions and then it would come in handy.

One day they are having lunch under a patch of thorn trees and trying to relax in the shade away from the mid-afternoon sun. Suddenly there is a crashing though the trees and out comes an elephant heading straight for them. They all crap themselves and rush behind the trees, which suddenly seem very small and fragile. L_ unlimbers his rifle, snicks off the safety and aims at the elephant. The elephant turns away at the last moment, about 20 metres away from them. L_ is not sure that it has even seen them, but aims just ahead of the shoulder and pulls the trigger.

The .300 magnum had an awful kick and L_ says that he almost landed flat on his arse from the recoil and his shoulder hurt for about a week afterwards. The elephant staggers off between the trees and the sounds fade away. They all listen but can’t hear anything. No one wants to follow a wounded elephant in thick bush. L_ said that he was shaking from the hectic few seconds and the adrenaline rush. They waited for another 15 minutes and then decided to try and go via a circular route and see where the hell the elephant was. About 20 minutes later they came across the elephant lying on its side, stone dead. It had staggered off for about 100 metres, before falling.

They couldn’t believe it. Hunters spent thousands of dollars and sometimes had to hunt for days or weeks to get a decent elephant and here was one that had walked right up to them, and one shot later they had an elephant. Talk about good luck or bad luck, depending on your perspective. Later they found that the elephant had been shot right through the heart.

So now they had an elephant. What to do next. They knew that if they left the elephant where it was then the hyenas, jackals and lions would soon polish off the carcass. But the tusks looked to be a good size and in good condition, and it would be a shame to leave them. But L_ didn’t want to cut them out. It was too much like hard work. So they decided to go to the nearest village, get the villagers to carve up the carcase for the meat and cut out the tusks for them.

So this is what they did and that was how L_ ended up with two elephant tusks. Possessing elephant tusks was illegal, even in those days, as elephant hunting was tightly controlled and one needed permits and that sort of thing. So L_ and the other guys kept very quiet about the whole episode. But now they had these two five foot long, 40 pound elephant tusks. They managed to smuggle it into the mine. But how the hell were they going to get it out again and what were they going to do with them?

Drinking our coffee, we thought about it. To me it seemed that the only possible solution was to cut up the tusks, if L_ was agreeable with that. That way they could all take a piece and get it through security, saying that it was a souvenir that they had bought in Zimbabwe, Zambia or
f---ing Outer Mongolia, or some story like that. Anything. As long as security swallowed the story.

So we cut up the tusks. L_ kept the best bits, these being the two tips, which were about a foot long. The other pieces were all between 10 to 12 inches long. In appreciation, L_ gave me a piece. I still have that piece of tusk and it sits on my bookshelf at present. Interestingly, security never queried my possession of that piece of tusk, and as far as I’m aware, none of the other guys ever got questioned either. I even took my piece to Australia and customs didn’t seem concerned about it.

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