From a personal experience while on a Great Wilderness Journey recently; a morning that will live in my memory forever, it brought me to tears and to this day I often wonder if the people I was travelling with understood the enormity of what was going on around them…
The Linyanti is an amazingly vibrant area and on this particular morning there was something, nothing tangible but something…animals were agitated. We passed Silver Eye (a resident lioness) with the baby elephant kill from the day before, close by a young giraffe separated from its mother was wondering around aimlessly, calling and anxious and we just knew that if the mother did not find her baby soon, we would be looking at another meal for the lions in the area. We looked pleading at our Explorations guide to help and as he said “there is nothing we can do, we cannot intervene”. With heavy hearts we made our way to a waterhole and across the water there was a large herd of elephants doing early morning ablutions. We sat across the water, out of the way of the herd and our guide said,” there is something wrong here” and as he mentioned this, the matriarch made a terrible sound and out of nowhere or for any apparent reason, came at the vehicle from across the waterhole. The guide watched this unfold and said “okay guys we are out of here “and we backed the vehicle away and drove off slowly but this female elephant was not satisfied and just kept coming, she was not stopping until we were well out of the way of her herd - adrenaline rush and nervous laughter…Once out of sight we all looked at each other and said “what is going on here today, what are we doing to make these beautiful animals so anxious and agitated?” After a more sedate drive to the Linyanti River, our guide suggested an early coffee stop to give us back our energy and get our caffeine level high after the early morning drama.
Sitting out the vehicle with our backs against a tree and the Linyanti River in front of us, just taking it in, our guide said in a very quiet and calm voice…
“Please keep real still, real quiet and real calm and watch …” unbeknown to us but certainly both our guide and staff assistant were very aware of and had been keeping a close eye on, two large breeding herds of elephant which had made their way to the river on either side of our position against the tree where we had been drinking coffee and watching the water birds. The wind changed and the rumblings of elephant chatter and communication were now clearly heard. They watched and waited, we watched and waited and suddenly there was a rumble from both sides and all the juveniles and babies made a rush to the river and were instantly in the water playing, drinking and acting like kids. The older members of the herd then headed towards the river and drank and had their play time in the water. The elephants were so close we could smell them, feel their energy and if brave or stupid enough, could have put our hands out and touched them. In the safety of the tree trunk and our watchful guide, we watched these magnificent creatures play and interact, totally comfortable with our presence.
I struggled to breathe and was so overwhelmed with emotion that tears spilled over in joy and amazement. We sat with the herds for about 90 minutes watching and laughing at the juveniles antics, watched them take on their elders and get firmly put back in their places, watched juveniles bully the babies and get reprimanded by the adult females, watched the matriarchs look over their families as only elders can - I was watching generations at play here, I was privileged enough to be amongst gentle giants.
Another rumble and it was action stations again, like a life guard blowing a whistle and everyone was out the water. A mass exodus ensued - noise, water everywhere, rumbling and elephant chatter and as suddenly as they arrived, they were gone. How do sixty odd elephants just disappear?
We all sat there in quiet silence and I looked at my guide and mouthed a quiet “thank you”. He smiled and nodded back at me. It was his skill, his understanding of the situation, his knowledge of the beasts around us and managing our expectations that gave each and every one of us an experience that would live forever inside us.
Needless to say, no pictures were taken as we did not want to upset our time with the elephants but to this day, I sit with coffee in hand at my desk and take myself back to the Linyanti and breathe in deep and I can still smell, hear and feel them and the tears still well up.
The Explorations Team
Images by Dana Allen