One of the unique features of King’s Pool in the Linyanti, Botswana is the ‘sunken hide’ at one of the outlying pans, a kilometre from the Linyanti River.
It’s a buried shipping container with windows and allows you to sit at ground level and watch antelope and elephants arrive to drink at one of the first available water points in the dry season for hundreds of kilometres. Traditionally, the camp would pump water from the camp borehole into the pan and animals flocked there.
But, plumbing in Botswana is difficult at the best of times and sharing your water pressure with hundreds of elephants a kilometre away turned out to be low on high-end traveller’s priorities. For the sake of the camp’s pressure, the borehole was disconnected and the pipeline was connected to the river water pump. But the animals tasted the change in water and stopped visiting the pan. The experience of the sunken hide became boring without animals and eventually, the camp stopped pumping river water into the pan and it dried up completely.
Years passed by and the sunken hide became a forgotten monument. Until last week, under new management, King’s Pool reconnected the borehole to the pan with the intention to pump water into the pan strategically in the hope that the game would return but without depriving the camp’s pressure.
I had the privilege of arriving at King’s Pool a few days after they reconnected the borehole pump, but at that point, the camp hadn’t pumped any borehole water into the pan. The pan was also half full from the summer rains. After chatting with Alex the manager, we decided to go out to the pan during the middle of the day, turn on the pump and give it half an hour to see what would happen. We opened up the windows and brushed off the cobwebs while Alex gave the order to turn on the pump.
The beauty of the sunken hide is that the pump’s outlet is cemented into a concrete block about 1.5m away from the windows of the hide. We could smell the water as it began to gurgle out the block and into the pan and I turned to Alex and remarked that if we could smell the water, then any old elephant in the area should be able to and will come down to drink.
We had been shooting the breeze for 15 minutes when the hot grey shapes ghosted through the petrified trees that surround the pan in that urgent, ground-eating elephant shuffle. The youngest pulled up around the pan but the two old females walked, without hesitation, around the circumference of the pan straight to the concrete block. Like long-lost friends, their trunks embraced the outlet pipe and sucked up litre after litre of fresh borehole water.
They had appeared out of the heart of a semi-desert wilderness to go straight for water that they had last smelled and tasted years previously. The whole experience took 20 minutes from the time we turned on the pump! All we could do was photograph the eyes, trunks and toenails of the amazing creatures’ only metres in front of our eyes and marvel at the memory of elephants. A truly humbling experience!
Learn more about elephant conservation through one of our other interactive magazines, ‘IFAW- Using Science to Protect Elephants’.