The problem is not the elephant in the room. (The problem in the room is the squirrel, but more of that later.) The elephant is the problem outside the room. Actually, not a room but a tent. A luxury tent at the Savuti Camp on the Savuti Channel north-east of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. We are just back from an early game drive. Lions. Giraffes. Zebras. Buffalos. Wild dogs. And Elephants. A successful morning. The elephant that greets us is next to an elevated wooden walkway leading to our tent, noisily thrashing one of the trees into an elephantine green salad.
You can't go back to your tent so why not have lunch? one of the camp staff gently suggest. It'll probably be gone after you've eaten.
Our guide, Onx, joins our table. We talk about the elephants we'd seen the previous afternoon, more than a dozen at a backwater. Huge bulls down to small calves, the latter somehow escaping being crushed in the forest of lumbering legs. Later, we circle back to the same spot, and one dozen is now two.
Later again, we cross paths with another herd and an elephant comes thundering down the track straight at us, roaring and flapping its ears. It changes its mind – and direction – when our LandCruiser stands its ground and roars right back as Onx shifts into neutral and flattens the accelerator.
I'd heard there were now about 150,000 elephants in Botswana. Onx gives the figure a non-committal nod, so I Google. Some sources say more, others less. Whatever the actual figure, the Botswana government has decided it's too many – too many elephants trampling too many farms and too much natural habitat – so it's lifted the nation's five-year ban on hunting them.
The elephant in the room may soon be a trophy head on the wall.
After lunch we walk out to the verandah, and look back towards our tent. No elephant. Gone, along with much of the tree.
Back in our tent – beyond the mosquito-netted, king-size bed, and between the twin hand basins in the more-than-king-size bathroom – there was a cake of soap still in its green wrapper. A note written in white ink on a black card explains that it is to replace our own cake of soap which had been "nibbled by squirrels".
"I told you I'd seen a squirrel running across there," says my wife triumphantly, pointing to a beam across the front of the tent before going in search of other evidence. She found the squirrel (or squirrels) had sampled a bright red ball of lip balm and some vitamin C tablets before tucking into an unopened bag of nuts and sultanas.
She took the evidence to the manager who smiled sympathetically and asked, with genuine surprise, why we hadn't put our snack in the room safe. That's a tip that should be in the travel guides.
Greg Lenthen travelled at his own expense.
Qantas flies direct from Sydney to Johannesburg. Virgin Australia code shares with South African Airways (SAA) from the east coast to Perth and then direct to Johannesburg. SAA connects to Maun and Kasane, jumping off points for safaris in northern Botswana. See qantas.com; virginaustralia.com
Savuti Camp, Linyanti, Botswana, is one of Wilderness Safaris' more than 20 camps in six African countries. See wilderness-safaris.com