National Geographic : 2017 Oct
76 national geographic • october 2017 guide on this expedition, popped out of the driv- er’s side door. Strapping, ruddy, and blond, in his 40s, he seemed straight from central casting, wearing a cloth hat and shorts. He stood over the impression for a moment, a quizzical expression on his face, and nodded his head in agreement. If Nyae Nyae’s desert scrub is home to San families, it is also home to some of the last, biggest wild elephants in the world. This footprint was proof. The rest of us unloaded, followed by the tracker they only ever called the Old Man, another tracker in training, and one more San, who was acting as a “game guard” to make sure the hunt was conduct- ed in accordance with the conservancy’s rules and quotas. Last to emerge in that swelter was the client himself, an American businessman, who opened the passenger door and reached up to the rack for his gun, a 12-pound, bespoke .470 The elephants left snapped branches and warm scat in their wake. When they caught our scent, our sweat mixing with the sun-scorched grasses, they broke into a trumpeting jog and were gone. Later, more materialized on the horizon, in the shade of the camel thorn trees, shades them- selves. For such enormous creatures, they were nearly invisible but to the sharpest eyes. And those eyes belonged now to Dam, a short, com- pact man, a tracker from the local San people who stood in the back of the Land Cruiser. “Oliphant!” he cried, leaning hard over the right side of the vehicle, picking out tracks in the sand. He tapped on the door, and we came to a whiplashing halt. Dam jumped down, check- ing a footprint, its edges corrugated and etched inside with smaller bubbles. He motioned, and Felix Marnewecke, the professional hunter and By Michael Paterniti Photographs by David Chancellor Elephants kept appearing in wrinkled herds, loitering near the dusty pans, in search of water. With the September temperature pushing a hundred degrees at midday, the pachyderms were moving at the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia in a community- run wildlife reserve, or conservancy, called Nyae Nyae, where roughly 2,800 San people live today in unyielding conditions.