Close encounters of the elephant kind

Being a great lover of elephants and also having close ties to KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, I was saddened to read recently of the death of conservationist Lawrence Anthony, the author of “The Elephant Whisperer”.  What a story he had to tell about his experiences on his game farm Thula Thula in KwaZulu Natal.  His elephant tales brought tears to my eyes and I could only dream of adventures like that.  His book is a must read if you’re interested in real-life stories of elephants and conservation.  He was also famous for rescuing animals from the Baghdad Zoo during the war in Iraq and for founding The Earth Organization.  His passing is a huge loss to the world of conservation.

   A cute baby elephant

Talking of adventures with elephants, we had an adventure of our own in the BwaBwata National Park in the western Caprivi area of Namibia some time ago.  We’d heard somewhere that this park had the highest concentration of elephants in Africa so took a day trip into the park to see them.  We drove virtually the whole day and saw only one elephant.  There was plenty of dung around to indicate their presence, but it got to the ludicrous point where we were joking that the dung must have been shipped in to make it appear as if they had any elephants at all.  Disappointed after many hours of seeing none, we headed out of the park only to be stopped at a bend in the river by elephants walking down to the water to drink.

   Young African elephant - Chobe

When I say elephants, I mean hundreds of them.  Within minutes we were surrounded and one young bull didn’t like the look of us at all.  He did a mock charge, flapped his ears, bellowed loudly and hopped from foot to foot.  We couldn’t retreat for two reasons.  We were in very thick sand and we were surrounded by lots of other elephants.  It was very frightenng.  We sat quite still with hearts pounding and palms sweating as we waited for a chance to leave.  The irony was that we were witnessing more elephants than we could ever imagine and we didn’t dare lift a finger to photograph them so we came away with no photos at all of this experience.  The pictures in this blog are from other areas.

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The herd took over an hour to pass us on their way down to the water.  If it hadn’t been so dangerous, I would have enjoyed the spectacle more.  We’ve seen horrendous pictures of vehicles being flattened by elephants, so are always very wary of getting too close to them.  We consider ourselves very lucky to have escaped unharmed and I’m not ashamed to admit that it took about six brandies to steady our nerves when we got back to our campsite (and I don’t even drink brandy!!)  We sure had an adventure to chat about over our campfire that night.

   Mother and baby - Chobe

If you’d like to read more about African elephants, WWF has an excellent website.

   African elephant