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We’d been talking about Shadrack’s streak and about elephant migrations in general. While the motives for such long-distance movements are pretty well understood, scientists still don’t know how elephants, who have very poor vision, find their way to faraway spots without getting lost. Were there any theories, I asked, that could account for this?

Which is when Wall said what he said.

Maybe elephants can hear mountains. Maybe each mountain range, each specific mountain, with its uniquely serrated ridgelines, creates a different sound, a different tone, when the wind blows over it. Imagine a soundscape as vivid as a landscape, but only "visible" to an elephant’s huge ears. An elephant wanting to move in the direction of a specific mountain wouldn’t need to see his destination at all. He’d just need to hear it.

That’s only one theory, of course, but it’s as good as any for now.

The sun, another thing you don’t need to see to sense, begins lowering to the west of our useless ears, and we march on, trusting our GPS devices to guide us silently where we want to go.

***

"We are in desperate need of maji!" David Daballen’s equanimity has flown the coop. We are on day four of the trek and have walked some 50 miles, about half of what Shadrack covered in the same amount of time. Daballen is pacing, a satellite phone pressed to his ear, his voice rising, urgent. "Maji" means water. Maji means everything.

We’ve nearly run out.

The water that remains is a problem in itself. Several problems, in fact: (1) Most of our jerricans are recycled cooking-oil containers. They weren’t entirely cleaned out. Now, midday, day four, the oily residue has gunked up our hand-pump water filters. As Daballen paces, I’m sitting on a duffel bag full of useless freeze-dried food, working one of the filters, sweating more liquid than the pump is producing. (2) The jerricans that are not recycled cooking-oil containers are recycled sulphuric-acid containers. They’ve got the skull and crossbones and everything. These, too, were not cleaned out very well. The water from these jerricans has a distinct car-battery tang. We’ve been avoiding drinking from them. Now we’ve got no choice. (3) The water we took from the reservoir two days ago was a cloudy and putrid miso soup of excrement and algae. We’d been avoiding drinking this water too. Again, we’ve got no choice.

We expected to find much more water. Even an hour ago, our hopes were high. We had just reached a dry riverbed where Wall had sworn he’d spotted a big patch of water during our flyover. But all we found was a rank green pool not much bigger than a Jacuzzi, one that had just been vacated by a small family of evidently diarrhetic warthogs. We dubbed it Jake’s Oasis.

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  • Brilliant photographs especially the night time ones. It is inspiring in a very astounding way.
  • Great article, wonderful photos. I wish I could take part in something like this someday. They are…
  • Amazing, inspiring.
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