The routine from the lodge stoop seemed to be baboons at dawn, zebras and antelope during the morning, elephants in the midday heat and buffalos plus more elephants each evening. As the night deepened - and with a good torch - the eyes of prowling cats would reflect back yellow points of trouble.
This is the area from where Cecil the famous lion was lured by a hunter and an American dentist, Walter Palmer, and shot with a bow, causing worldwide outrage.There's poaching and ration hunting in the park, and elephants deemed "problem animals" are shot for foreign revenue. In such circumstances you cannot bank on a friendly reception from a herd.
The plan had been to head slowly for a distant waterhole in the afternoon and have sundowners at a ground-level hide. With any luck there's be a few elephants.
My guide dropped me off at the hide and headed off to not disturb wildlife that might arrive. It looked like a pile of logs but had an opening that led down into a chamber a few meters below ground. From inside, if an elephant walked close by, all you'd see would be its toenails.
I stuck my head through the doorway and discovered the wooden stairs had collapsed. Perhaps I could jump down, but it would be a hell of a job to get out again. So I leaned up against one of the logs facing the waterhole and hoped for the best. As the sun dipped westwards, elephants began arriving across the water. Slowly the full moon rose like a huge golden coin, silhouetting pachyderms in its rippling reflection.
I was transfixed but, as it turned out, a little too transfixed to notice a breeding herd led by a huge matriarch coming up behind me. They were so silent on their spongy feet that I could hear the "whip poor will" call of a distant fiery-necked nightjar and the soft thump of the water pump 100 meters away. But not them.
There was nowhere to hide and running would have been suicide, so I made myself as small as possible and, I think, stopped breathing. The matriarch led her herd to the water's edge and the soft twilight was filled with the sound of slurping, sighing and the happy squeals of youngsters.
I fervently hoped she hadn't seen my crouching form but, it turned out, for the moment she was ignoring me. When the drinking was done she turned towards me, raised trunk and sniffed. With her ears flared in warning she seemed to fill the sky.
We looked at each other for an uncomfortably long time. Then something extremely strange happened. I generally avoid attaching human intentions to animal actions, but she did something so human I couldn't help it: she lowered her trunk and nodded. As she did I felt an inexplicable wave of acceptance wash over me. I relaxed and smiled at her.