One of my most enduring memories is that of one of my first visits to Nyamepi Camp in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. Our children were under ten at the time, and our photographs show sunburnt, healthy youngsters, with big smiles on their dusty faces as they played. In many of the prints, there is an elephant browsing nonchalantly in the background. This was Oliver, a well-mannered giant who was one of the magnificent old bull elephants that frequent this area.
How privileged we were to be able to have these experiences with him, and he must appear in hundreds of photos of many families visiting Mana Pools over the years.
He went by many names: Oliver, Slit Ear, Slotty and Nudge are a few of them. One of his ears was torn, which made him instantly recognisable. His left tusk was broken off, and he had not one hair left in his tail, significantly showing how old and what a character this dear chap was.
He hit the local headlines a few years ago when a Zimbabwean visitor, now a resident in Australia, came to Mana Pools and became aware that Oliver had a festering abscess on his shoulder. He organised vets and volunteers and, together with the National Parks officers, they drugged Oliver, lanced and treated the abscess. In a very short time, this wonderful elephant was back on his feet and feeding, showing no aggression or animosity towards his well-wishers.
Last October, a group of guests visited us and whilst we were having breakfast one morning, Oliver wandered right up to the table to join us! We have an amazing photograph of his gigantic body next to us.
It was spoken of how he installed an incredible feeling of calm - never a feeling of fear about him being so close. This photograph has been circulated around the world under the heading "Brekkie in Africa" (the word "brekkie" being an abbreviation for breakfast!) He certainly was a legend, and it is so sad that he will not be with us in Mana Pools this year.
He trusted us and never harmed or threatened us as he gracefully wandered through our camps.
We take this opportunity to thank him and the few remaining large bull elephants of Mana for giving us these special and memorable experiences.
To Oliver - we thank you........