“LEE O!” Bongo’s voice hissed from the darkness, over the thumping sound of his leg knocking on the wooden floorboards in the trailer. ”
“What are you doing?” Lee O asked. “You’ll give us away!”
“It’s itchy,” Bongo complained, as his fingers attacked the tick attached to his ribs.
“When do you think we’ll get there?
The five friends were huddled together at the back of a trailer transporting two of the elephants to the Serengeti. At least, that’s where they hoped they were going!
They had been on the road for days now, and they were tired, hot and hungry.
The elephants were happily sharing their water with the friends, glad to have the company on the long journey. Their water trough was now a paddling pool for Hevi, who had to keep his thin skin wet to stop him from overheating. And every now and then, one of the elephants would spray the grateful little hippo with his trunk.
But food was a problem, especially for Lee O, who was a carnivore and for Vile, who was a White-Backed vulture and a strict meat-eater. Hevi was a herbivore and he could tuck into the elephants’ hay whenever he felt hungry, and Manji had worked out a plan with Bongo that every time the trucks stopped for a rest, the little meerkat would disappear through a hole in the side of their truck to find grubs or worms, or any type of fruit he could gather off the ground. Sometimes, he managed to bring back bugs and lizards for Bongo, or a small rodent, but he hadn’t found anything that could stop Lee O or Vile’s rumbling stomachs!
But even though they were hungry, their plan was working out well! The day before they left, Lee O had gathered the animals together and told them that their safari to the Serengeti might become a reality after all! They had been sworn to secrecy before he would let them in on the plan, and when he had finished telling them his idea, they had all stared at the little cub in hopeful disbelief.
What Lee O had suggested was that they slip away from their parents, taking enough food with them to last for a few days. Then they would wait in the bushes near the elephant enclosure for the trucks to open. The trucks were already parked close by, the cub had told them. He had seen them himself. They would sneak into a truck, one by one, and hide right at the back, where it was dark. The elephants would be loaded on and the animal friends would be totally hidden. They would stow away with the elephants and make their way to the Serengeti.
“And how do we get back?” Bongo had asked, thinking Lee O had totally lost it!
“Now, that’s the most exciting part,” the little cub had continued. “The elephants are going to the Serengeti as part of an animal relocation, but they’re also going to be exchanged for two rhinos that are coming to live in our reserve! Raha said they’re in danger!”
“I think he meant ‘endangered’!” Vile had smiled.
“Don’t you see? The truck is coming back here and all we have to do is hide in the same way, to get back!” Lee O had said, excitedly.
“Are you sure it’s possible?” Hevi asked, suddenly afraid that his dream was quickly becoming real.
“I think it is,” Lee O answered slowly. “If things go according to plan, we’ll be able to get to the Serengeti and home again!”
“But what if they don’t?” Manji squealed, suddenly afraid. “What if we get left behind somewhere, and have to live in the Serengeti forever?”
“We’ll find a way, I promise,” Lee O reassured them. “Somehow, we will.”
And so far they had found a way! They were on their way to the Serengeti!
As the truck slowed down the other animals – who were dozing quietly in the dark trailer – opened their eyes sleepily.
“I’m hungry!” Vile muttered in a croaking voice.
“If you only ate ripe fruit and vegetables, like other species of vultures, I’d be able to help find you food,” Manji said to Vile.
“Well, I don’t,” Vile replied unhappily, wishing he could just get out of the truck, spread his long, broad wings and soar in the sky. His keen eyesight would be able to find food in an instant! More and more, this safari was starting to not seem like such a good idea, after all!
“It won’t be too long before we get there, and you’ll have more to eat than you’ve ever had before,” the elephant closest to them said. “At least, that’s what I heard!”
Dreams of the Serengeti began to fill their heads and the friends chatted excitedly to each other, forgetting their hunger. And then, suddenly, their words were cut off by the sound of the man who drove the truck climbing down from the vehicle and shouting at another man. Their voices were joined by other voices and suddenly there was a lot of tension in the air.
“What’s happening?” Bongo asked in a squeaky voice.
“I don’t know,” Lee O growled softly. “Manji, go and check it out!”
The meerkat disappeared through the hole and the others waited and waited, growing more and more anxious as the noises outside the truck grew louder. They could hear doors banging and poles smacking against each other. Even the elephants, who were normally quiet and relaxed, grew agitated. They began stomping their feet and flapping their ears, uncertain of what was about to happen. Finally, they heard Manji scrambling back, his long, sharp black claws scraping the side of the trailer as he pushed himself through the opening.
“We’re here! We’re here!” Manji yelled, standing up on his back legs and looking at his friends with glinting eyes that peeked through the black rings around them.
His fur stood on end, as if he was being blown from behind by the wind.
“What did you see?” Hevi asked in both excitement and fear.
“It’s amazing, Hevi! There are animals everywhere you look!” Manji exclaimed.
“There are trees, bushes, grass plains . . . and I saw a river that is wider than any river I’ve ever seen before!”
“Okay!” Lee O took command of the situation right away. “Remember the plan!
As soon as the elephants are out . . . we run!”
They heard the bolts on the door sliding back, even before Lee O had finished speaking. Wanting to help them, one of the elephants pressed against the door with his head, and the moment it opened and sunlight came pouring into the trailer, the elephant was already pushing his way out. The men on the other side of the door yelled out in surprise and immediately backed away as the elephant came trotting down the ramp, his ears flapping, trumpeting through his raised trunk.
With the men’s attention focused on keeping the elephant away from the truck, the animals knew that now was the time! They bolted down the ramp after the elephant and ran like lightning towards the half-open gate.
The men scattered in confusion as Hevi came straight at them, and then veered away, running as fast as his short legs could carry him. The men hardly noticed Manji scurrying along the ground with his long tail dragging behind him, but they did see a small, male baboon leap out of the truck and run through the grass with his blue bottom pointed up in the air, followed by a beautiful, golden lion cub that bolted through the gate and disappeared behind a nearby thicket of trees! And then – when things couldn’t get more amazing – a little vulture suddenly appeared and squatted on the ramp for a moment, before lifting off into the sky!
The men stared at each other in confusion and the driver shouted at the two young men who had fed and watered the elephants on the journey. Two rangers in khaki uniforms jumped into a Land Rover and drove off in a cloud of dust, talking urgently into the radio.
The elephant turned to look at the disappearing figures of Lee O, Manji, Hevi and Bongo. “Good luck,” he called out, after them.
“Thank you!” Vile said, from just overhead.
“And good luck with your new life here, too!”