May 2nd, 2017
This past weekend we went looking for baby elephants. At around four in the afternoon we set out on our drive but to our disappointment the weather was quite overcast and not in our favor. Skeptical as we were that we wouldn't find anything worthwhile we went anyway. As we were driving near the top of a hill we came around a bend and to our surprise there it was, our first elephant. The elephant however was clearly not as happy about this as we were so we decided to try and pass but he just wouldn’t have it. Every time we moved he would move in front of us and stare us down, almost tauntingly as if he was daring us to come closer. After quite a bit of back and forth with the elephant we finally managed to get past and we were ready to continue our journey.
About half a mile further down the road and quite unexpectedly we found what we set out for, baby elephants. However; where there are baby elephants, there are bound to very protective mothers. So we had to approach with a lot of caution. The herd was about ten or so elephants just strolling down the road and every time we got too close for their comfort one of the mothers, probably the matriarch, would turn to us with a glare as if to say: “Come closer, see how that works out for you…”. So with a firm conviction of not wanting to be trampled and not wanting to cause the elephants any distress we held back as they mosey on.
While this is happening, we hear an elephant call from the bushes next to us and we look about trying to see where it’s coming from. Thinking that the grumpy one from earlier sneaked up on us. Fortunately it wasn’t the case, though probably one of the more touching moments I have ever experienced in my life. It was a young elephant that had clearly gotten separated from the herd and was panicking, calling frantically for its family. It ran through the bush, across the road and back into the bush then back onto the road again before it started making its way to the rest of the herd. The matriarch that was blocking us seemed elated and so did the calf. You could almost feel the relief from both of them as the calf was welcomed back to the heard. It was soon after this that we noticed elephants behind us and that’s when it dawned on us; we were in the middle of the herd…
Behind us we saw a mother with a calf and then another very young calf walking down the middle of the road. When a mother elephant feels her young are threatened they can become extremely aggressive, which was bad news for us. Luckily for us the mother guided them in to the bush and they passed us. These animals can weigh up to 5 tons and they moved through the bushes like mice, only their massive silhouettes gave them away. The moment was cut short though as our grumpy friend from before showed up behind us, leaving us in quite the pickle; we couldn’t go forward as the matriarch would trample us and we couldn’t go back because he was looking for a fight, so what were we to do?
I switched of my car and waited to see how this plays out, hoping and praying that I still have a car once this is over. The elephant seemed to recognize the car and probably thought “What is this strange looking creature? And what does it want?” Or maybe he knew it was a car and just had some unpleasant experiences in the past. He came trotting down the road up to about 2 or 3 yards from my car and started stomping on the ground, grunting away and making noises trying to get a response out of us I would assume. So eventually he got bored as this “strange creature” didn’t seem interested in playing along so it finally walked on. Quite the humbling experience watching something that massive pass you knowing that just moments ago it could have gone much, much worse…
With a sigh of relief we started to breathe again but realized we were going to get back to camp, late now. We turned the car around and started heading back. There was one more surprise for us though; one lone teenage elephant walking down the road towards us, face to face this ‘little’ guy didn’t know what to do with us and I was just getting use to the idea of ending this adventure with my car intact. It tried to figure things out and called its mother for help, which would have been even worse, but luckily she was quite far away now. He then went into the bushes and watched us with eyes that we could see were scared, little did he know we were more scared of it than it was of us. So the awkward stand off went on as we all tried to figure what to do. Luckily the elephant figured out he could pass through the bushes and quickly slipped by. When I took the above photo the poor guy got such a fright that he nearly started running for his life. This was a truly touching moment that I will probably remember for the rest of my life.
The following day we were talking to other people who had also experienced the grumpy elephant wanting to fight on the hilltop at nearly the same spot that we encountered him on. Maybe the elephant did actually have some unfortunate experiences with cars. That or he was just playing a rather unfair game of king of the hill with cars passing by. After an experience like this you realize that elephants truly are amazing creatures that live in large families much like us with protective mothers that sneak children around danger and that one grumpy uncle that always makes everyone uncomfortable, especially strangers. I can only imagine how much you could learn from spending time with each one of them, their individual personalities and own unique way of doing things.
Elephants truly are highly intelligent creatures with an amazing social structure.