It’s World Elephant Day!

A herd of elephants in Addo National Park

12th August marks World Elephant Day and its aim is to bring the world together to help and protect our elephants. Regular followers of Taraji Blue will know that elephants are one of our most favourite animals. We have been privileged to spend many a happy hour in their company, mainly in the National Parks of South Africa and Kenya and we will never grow tired of their company.I thought it pertinent to therefore share some of our favourite experiences of elephants and some of our favourite photos that we have captured over the years.

Meeting the Herd:
At Harpoor Dam in Addo National Park we were speechless to come across one the largest herds of elephants we have ever seen. Despite their bulk and size they appeared out of the bush silently, marching slowly in formation toward the watering hole. I stopped counting at 40 elephants as my heart could take no more. Instead I focused my attention on the tiny babies who were confidently leading the herd across the plains. Ears flapping and tails swinging with excitement they almost tripped over themsleves in glee. We spent a couple of hours with them, before slowly trailing them back towards our camp at a respectful distance. Elated and buzzing with adrenaline we got back to camp and set up a braai under the darkening skies. As the stars came out we heard a rustle to the bushes at our right. Seeking a vantage point beside our tent I peeped on tiptoes to see who or what was sneaking up on us. I needn’t have bothered with the tip toes, because right next to our tent was a HUGE male bull in the midst of the 40 strong herd who’d popped by to say hello once more. Who could ask for a better night?!

Talking with the elephants:
Elephants communicate with a spoken language that they need to learn from other elephants, and with body language that is instinctive at birth. Being so close to these gentle giants you can often hear their rumblings as they communicate to one another as they graze and travel.As they move silently past you, your respect naturally turns to fear. Providing you remain totally silent and still, they’ll not harm you, or even glance at you, but on the rare occasion that you find yourself accidentally invading their space there’s no mistaking their trumpet calls – often used as a sign of distress or as a show of strength. The noise is unmistakable and terrifying. It’ll make every hair on your body stand on end as you brace yourself for the charge.

Mr Crotchety Pants:
It was  a lovely afternoon – the sun was beginning to lower and the temperature had become very pleasant. We set out from camp for a game drive and decided to take a nearby loop road to enjoy the last few hours of the day. Barely a few km down the road we saw a HUGE bull elephant standing beside this tree. Due to the low vegetation height we saw him in plenty time and parked a very respectful distance from him to see if he’d walk on. I was the driver that afternoon and really did not want to scare the mother-in-law too much by driving too close (she was in the front passenger seat beside me).

As the elephant started to amble toward the road it became evident that we’d need to wait this out – as there was no way I was going to try and squeeze past him to continue our drive – nor was I too keen on getting any closer. So I popped the engine into neutral and we waited patiently. After about ten minutes we’d started to form quite a queue of traffic behind us and I was worried that, on this single track road, the other drivers might start getting very impatient (unfortunately not many people are that respectful of elephants and will happily drive on quickly by). It was at this exact moment that I recalled how closely packed the row of cars behind us was that the elephant took an immediate dislike to me. He swung to face us head on. Standing in the middle of the dirt track, ears spread wide he raised his trunk towards us. The sense of annoyance was intense. With a very meaningful and not well intentioned gait he started to stomp towards us – throwing out his right front leg to the side as he approached. It became very clear that this was a very unhappy ellie. I had no chose but to start the engine up – something that rattled him even more and he sped up, coming closer every second.   My heart was racing and adrenaline was pumping through my body – I threw the car into reverse gear but had no where to go as the car behind was right up my jacksie. I started to gesticulate to the driver behind – but he seemed oblivious – it was only when he saw the elephant through our front window that he realised that hulk of grey was not bad weather in the sky, but a very angry bull. Regardless, I decided that I could not afford to wait any longer – I was petrified. I started to reverse, figuring that the worst that could happen is that I forcefully push the guy behind me back and have a dented rear-end for the pleasure. Thankfully the driver behind got the message – and he too started to reverse into the guy behind him – it felt like the slowest chain reaction in the world.

My first elephant encounter:
So dominant, so overwhelming. You’ll struggle to take a breath the first time a wild elephant walks by. Rooted to the spot you’ll want to reach out, overwhelmed yet unafraid of the magnamity that is this wild beast. You’ll notice details you never have before. The long, seductive eyelashes, slowly fluttering to protect the tiniest of eyes. The whiskers protruding from the mouth, drawing further attention to the stature and age of the matriarch. The minimalist tail, naked but for a few tatty end hairs which the young cling onto.

As the elephant ambles by, you’ll notice the plodding nature of the giant feet and your attention will be drawn to the footprints left behind in the sand, their size somewhat magnified as the youngest of the herd gingerly follow in the elders’ footsteps. It’s almost hard to spot the smallest among the herd. So protective, so loving, the elder females will encourage the young to walk in the centre, ever mindful of potential dangers yet seemingly oblivious to the risks of such small and fragile frames underfoot. Morphing between giddy with excitement and shy and retiring, each elephant calf will transform before your very eyes as they gain confidence with each step and they explore new landscapes.

Read more about World Elephant Day @ http://worldelephantday.org/

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