|Oh dear, elephant jam ahead.|
|One big Mama rushes over.|
|"But Mummy, I just wanna play!"|
|Auntie runs up to join Big Mama and baby.|
|"Button up kiddo!"|
|Big Mama and now 2 Aunties gently guide baby in between their legs for safety.|
Elephant family love and concern for their young summed up in how their trunks gently caress and guide the baby, keeping it safe. Great composition. Beautiful!
All this is happening a few metres in front of us. What you don't see in those frames is the larger matriarch of the herd coming up on our vehicle's right hand side, seemingly intent on checking us out closely. Other elephants were closing in, all concerned. With young to protect, elephants can be extremely aggressive.
We should have reversed out of there, but the second 4WD had parked right up our backside: they wanted good pictures they later told us! Yeah right?! Of us getting killed!? No thought that we may need to get out of there quick smart if things turned nasty!
So our guide Russell did the only thing possible- he switched off the motor and said "Just sit quietly and don't move."
"And enjoy this!"
This is the last picture I dared take as the elephants all moved closer. Three with the baby kept between their legs, and also the big matriarch was out of frame now right up at our right hand side, possibly trying to walk past us along that side of the track. As the elephants walked slowly right up to our 4WD I put my camera down and just watched events unfolding....that close, you don't make movements they may interpret as a threat. And I also wanted to concentrate on the moment...maybe my last. A good way to go, actually, I thought.
Fear? Yeah, momentarily. You can't help feeling fear when you have 4 big elephants around you. From my seated position looking up at those animals, which were so close, they were monstrous! Right up against our bull-bars: I noted their knees were just as high!
But a strange thought flew through my mind - they reminded me of the gang of attendants that surrounded the vehicle at the last filling station. I was laughing to myself when I thought I should ask them to wash our windscreen...just a quick flip over with their trunks squirting water would be so easy for them.
"C'mon Jim, this is serious stuff. Stop horsing around." another thought cut across my mind.
In tense or difficult situations I rationalise out my fear; it's just a natural defense response to keep you safe.
So I ask myself " How do you feel about this?"
"Yeah, OK. But I'm apprehensive."
"Do you feel you will survive this?"
"Yes. No harm will come to me." is the response.
I 'sense' I will come through this unharmed. My instinct tells me so. I reckon I have a strong intuitive sense so have learned to trust my instincts.
"So why be afraid?"
"I am not afraid because I know the future and it tells me I will be OK."
I convince myself I know the outcome: and if I know the outcome is OK, why be scared?
A simple, quick little conversation with my inner self and fear disappears, and I move on and enjoy the excitement of being surrounded by these huge beautiful, wonderful animals just 2 metres away from us.
One step forward, a lunge and that ele with the 2 feet long tusks would have left me looking like Swiss cheese. I noted my passenger side window was rolled down - she could hook her trunk through and have me....
Then Emmylou Harris starts singing, so gently, so clearly in my mind - 'Gold' from her 'All I Intended To Be' CD. She's singing this song in my mind, while I'm concentrating on that huge lovely elephant! Calm and peace filled the scene. I think that ele enjoyed the telepathic transference of Emmylou's singing because she stood there, eyeballing me, enjoying every word I'm sure, and that melody sure kept her calm.
Amazing what thoughts flowed through my brain during those moments. Well, crazy, but seemed to work...yeah well I'm still around. Others could have sat there screaming their heads off really bringing those elephants on!
But all the time those eles were really telling us they wanted to get past. The Mexican stand-off. We couldn't move...and they wanted through. What would they do?
Sit still, stay calm, enjoy that huge ele with the longest tusks.. I could count the hairs around her eye...every crinkle in her skin...every pore stood out so clearly. Those tusks looked pretty long and rather sharp too.
Meantime the big matriarch checked us out.
Fred's pictures tell the story. She is up so close to us in the lead 4WD.
Yes, that close!
Hours seemed to pass, but in reality probably 5, maybe 10 minutes of 4 huge elephants around us. Then the matriarch probably decided she couldn't get through beside us, and turned and walked slowly away and around that bush on our right hand side. The 3 eles in front of us seemed to take their cue from her, and slowly edged around to our left, up close by my open window. So near I could have stretched my hand out and touched them. Baby stayed safely tucked between their legs.
I actually felt sad that the moment was over, although it wasn't quite over yet as they stood and watched us as Russell started the motor and we all drove through slowly. I was thankful to have such an experienced guide with us.
There is a story within this encounter story. We may be afraid of such huge wild animals, but these elephants while being protective of their young one, did not harm us. All they wanted is to be safe from the threat we may have posed, and go on about their business. Left alone all they want is access to food and water, and to bring up their young in safety and follow their traditional migratory routes.
We don't have to fear them. We need to respect them, understand them, change Asian attitudes to ivory and above all protect their wilderness areas from human encroachment
As more and more farms bordering Chobe National Park are fenced off, animals that traditionally would have roamed across these areas are now being cut off from water or grazing. Where public roads are now fenced off on either side, elephants are becoming confused or trapped within this maze of narrow corridors, unable to follow their usual routes. Conflict with farmers bordering Chobe when elephants break down fencing often results in them being shot.
More on that later.
NB. All the photos showing the 4WDs are taken by Fred Hodgson, driver of the last vehicle. Thanks Fred. Others are by myself. Sorry about poor pic quality but all are taken through dirty windscreens.
Emmylou Harris sings 'Gold' here.
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