The other night, I was quite literally living inside a parade. A parade of elephants. A breeding herd decided to come visit the camp at 10pm. We had elephants of all sizes traipsing through the brush literally walking down the pathways and between the tents.
All I could do was stand in my doorway and watch them go by, as I didn’t dare try to get any photos. Elephants weigh a few tons, have no problem throwing their weight around, and have an aversion to camera flashes, particularly at night. I live in a canvas tent. Picture of an elephant eating the tree next to my window and then me getting squooshed when I momentarily blind it and piss it off? Or stay alive and contentedly watch them from my front stoop as they blithely puttered along down the pathway and stay intact? I chose to stay intact, so I’m sorry, but I have no photos of the experience for you. However, I do have plenty of photos of close encounters with elephants, which I’ve included, as a stand-in for our late-night visitors.
We knew the elephants were in the area. One of the perks of living on a reserve is that there are many people constantly in the bush for some reason or another, whether it is field guides guiding guests, the anti-poaching unit patrolling the perimeters, the wildlife monitors tracking animals, or simply the reserve manager out for a late-afternoon jol. All of them keep everyone else abreast of what is going on, and what animals are where. All except the rhinos. The rhinos’ whereabouts are on lock-down these days, and for good reason. We even have to keep a tight lid on the rhino locations when we see them – we are only supposed to report them to certain people, and not over the radio. Elephants, however, are fair game on any radio channel, and honestly, it’s a safety concern when it comes to elephants. When they pass through, they cause all kinds of damage, and aren’t always the most pleasant of creatures when you surprise them in the bush. Or when they surprise you when you’re walking out of the bathroom. Which happens more often than you’d think.
Rarely do we get a chance to see them at night, though, so it was breathtaking to be standing in my doorway as several-ton beings ambled by, munching on my yard, clearing a view for us as they tore away branches (and even small trees). While they, like any animal, are unpredictable, it wasn’t their behavior I was concerned with, though. It was my little white Golf sitting in their pathway that had me worried. Though it would make no sense for them to intentionally squoosh the car, they were eating the trees all around the car, and elephants have a penchant for knocking trees over to get at the moist roots. The car was right in the path of a few tall acacia trees. Not only would the car suffer serious damage from the weight of a tree falling on top of it, but it would also sustain damage from the three-inch thorns populating the branches of said tree like a medieval torture device.
For two hours, my fiancé and i periodically got up and watched the elephants from my door, both of us wrapped in sleeping bags to ward off the night chill, and stock still so as to not disturb the company. We saw an entire family, from little peanuts tripping through the brush to big brothers and sisters knocking their younger siblings about, to older matriarchs keeping the teenagers in line with occasional swats of their trunks.
When we weren’t at the door, we were in bed listening to them chewing the scenery all around our tent. All night, we heard their low rumblings, occasional trumpeting, and more than a few fart bubbles. The sounds reverberated through my body and eventually lulled me to sleep.
When we woke in the morning, the only reminders of our evening visitors where branches littering the pathways, a few less trees and shrubs, a better view of the river, and some rather large, smelly squares of dung. Some of the students, whose tents were literally a foot from where the elephants walked, had not even woken up last night. That’s one of the most amazing things about these creatures – while they may weight several tons and grow to a good 15 feet high, they can also move soundlessly, the fat pads on their feet enabling them to maneuver like ninjas through even the thickest leaf litter. As always, nature manages to amaze me once again.
Song of the day: “Nellie the Elephant” by Toy Dolls
By the way, an elephant with its trunk up, like the one in this photo below, is supposed to be good luck. While that’s nice to consider, really, they’re just sniffing you out…
All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo