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So we retreated to the best patch of shade we could find and waited while Daballen used the sat phone to arrange an evacuation. He makes plans for a Land Cruiser to meet us about eight miles farther south, where Shadrack’s path skirts close to what on satellite maps looks like a faint crease in the earth. In our hearts we hope this is a passable road. We head toward the evac point, sucking down the dregs from our CamelBaks.

And then, finally, we find a trace of Shadrack! The sun has set, and we’re illuminating the landscape like fire-eyed cyclopes with our headlamps. Daballen sees it first. An impression in the earth, several inches deep, the diameter of a small frozen pizza, followed by another and then another and then another. Elephant tracks. It’s impossible to say for sure that Shadrack made these, but they are almost on top of one of his GPS waypoints. After days walking in Shadrack’s virtual footprints, it feels great to do so literally.

Wall bends down, touches the impressions. The ground is dry, parched, stiff, and brittle. An elephant, even a huge bull like Shadrack, wouldn’t leave tracks this deep in ground this dry. It had to be soggy, a clue that reinforces another one of Wall’s theories: Elephants probably wait until all the right environmental factors, like rain, fall into place before they embark on long journeys. Unlike us, Shadrack wouldn’t be caught dead out in the middle of a drought-ravaged desert. He’s too smart for that.

***

The cavalry’s name is Daniel Lentipo. He rides in that evening on one of Save the Elephants’ prematurely senescent Land Cruisers and meets us at the spot Daballen had noticed on the map. He brings some cold Tusker Beer, Cokes, and lots of clean well water. We spend one more night in the bush. The next morning, as we’re driving out of camp, starting the long drive back to Save the Elephants headquarters, we spot fresh lion prints above the Land Cruiser tracks. Some Simba had obviously sniffed around our tents before dawn but had, thankfully, found us wanting.

All the implications of the data that Wall accumulated along the way will take time to work out. He plans to draw up Shadrack’s caloric profile over the course of the streak; he’ll analyze the route, charting big features like watering holes and minutiae like acacia patches; and, slowly, he’ll wade through the tedious number crunching required of even the most rough-and-tumble field scientists. Ultimately, though, Wall will attempt to divine the wheres, whys, and hows of Shadrack’s streak—findings that could be as essential to the conservation of elephant corridors as the range and speeds of typical cars are to the construction of good highways. And the conservation of elephant corridors, of course, is essential to the conservation of elephants, period.

And what about Shadrack? Where is he now?

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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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