Elephant Encounters

This post is about exhilarating elephant encounters. The first one happened in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and the second in Moremi. One is about a single bull, the other about a massive herd. Both are about being a little too close for staying in our normal comfort zone.

Encounter 1:

Soon after we got to see 3 elephants playing in the river and mud a separate group of 4 came quickly down the hill next to us and plunged immediately into the water. Instead of playing and crossing the river the way the first group had, a large bull left the group and started walking toward us. From 30 or so meters he walked out of the water and got to 20, 15, 10 meters away. We were stuck. He was looking straight at us. If we turned on the cars he would get angry and most likely charge. That would require us reversing (uphill) faster than a charging elephant (up to 40 kph). Not likely to turn out so well for us. We stayed put.

He kept getting closer and closer. 5 meters away he started angling to the side. Constantly staring at us he came around up the hill slightly so that he was now towards the driver side of our car. I was positioned between an intense elephant on one side and my in-laws on the other side. I motioned that if he charges I am driving forward. Fast. Morris and Gill frantically waved “NO!!!” thinking that I was motioning to turn on the car and drive now. I wasn’t that naive.

I had one hand on the ignition, turned one notch short of starting the car. It was in gear and ready to go. If there was charge I was going as fast as possible straight ahead (trying to avoid driving straight into the river in the meantime). I stole a quick glance at Cheryl knowing that she is quite nervous around elephants (and for good reason.) Her head was buried in her arms. This was probably best.

As the elephant continued ever so slowly around the vehicle he suddenly got annoyed.. His trunk went up, his ears went out. He wasn’t happy. My heart was pounding. My jaw clenched. My stomach knotted.

“This is it!” I thought.

Still no charge.

We stayed still.

For 10 agonizing minutes (+ or – a few) the elephant slowly made its way past our vehicles. For some of the time I could only see him in the side mirrors. At one point he disappeared completely into the blind spot directly behind me since our rear-view is blocked. My heart never stopped pounding. My hand never left the ignition.

Eventually he made his way to the river on the other side and continued as if nothing happened. We could breathe at last. Phew. The only sad part is I have no photos to commemorate the occasion. Silly me for not thinking of that in the moment.

Encounter 2

On a rather slow morning game drive through Moremi we were exploring one final area when we came across a massive herd of elephants. On the way past the elephants were all well away from the road and we drove slowly past with taking the requisite number of photos. As we drove we saw the herd kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Overall we estimated over 150 elephant. Amazing! There was no where for us to get above them to take a picture of just how many there were though so we continued on our way.

After leaving the herd the road we were on ended in a pond. The GPS told us there was a road there but with all the rain that this part of the world has received this year, the road had turned into a pond. Being a single vehicle we decided not to cross, opting to turn around and head home for breakfast.

We were on the lookout for elephants knowing that the herd was close by but they were soon closer then we anticipated. As we turned a corner there was a nice bull right in front of us on the road. Time to reverse. Oh wait, now there’s an elephant behind us. Go forward again. Nope! I guess we stay still. Wait, there’s an elephant just to our left. And now one’s approaching on the right. We had to stay put. Sitting in the middle of a massive herd of elephant will make you feel small and powerless in a way that doesn’t happen too often. Really cool to see them group together.

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Can’t go forward…

Unlike the encounter before, this time the car was never off. Most of the time the elephants didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by us (except once when I tried to inch forward a bit too quickly.) They were moving at their own pace (read: slowly) but eventually a large enough gap opened up in the herd that we could slip through without bothering anyone.

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