Elephants Both In And Out Of The Room

Elephants Both In And Out Of The Room

If I had it to do all over again, I would devote myself to the study of the elephant. Sadly, there is only so much one can cram into the too few years of a lifetime, and so I consider myself lucky to have been able to spend some time with them. Elephants are impressive creatures with a fascinating culture.

Last year when my husband I spent 12 days in the bush on a trip to Africa, I noticed that no matter how many animals we were seeing, the elephants never lost their allure.

Always led by a matriarch, the herd does not tolerate incest. If a bull gets out of hand and tries to mate within the family, he is ousted and becomes a rogue, but the females never leave their herd. They are devoted to one another and have been known to return to the site of the death of a member of the herd, much like humans would visit a cemetery.

Far from being clumsy, elephants are so quiet that you do not hear them unless they are eating, playing in the water, or calling to one another. Even though adult elephants can weigh seven or even nine tons, they can move so delicately across a road that often you never see them until they are standing right in front of you.

blog6_elephants2In Zimbabwe, we were sitting JUST on the other side of this driftwood, when this big fellow became curious. It was both terrifying and enormously exciting. When all five of us sat completely still, he got bored and moved away.

In Lion Sands, near Kruger National Park in South Africa, our guide, Andrew, took six of us on an “elephant walk.” Early in the day, we stopped the Land Rover, quietly piled out and received instructions from Andrew us as to how to walk in the bush. We formed a single line; Andrew in front with his rifle slung over one shoulder.  We walked directly in his footsteps, placing one foot down as carefully and slowly as an elephant.

In case you might ever find yourself in such a situation, elephants do not like to be approached head on. And there we were, all seven of us, single file, coming face to face with a very large male. Andrew cautioned us all not to move. The elephant backed up a few steps and then dug its huge hoofs into the ground, kicking up dirt and advancing as if to charge. I held my breath. Please Lord, I thought, don’t let any of these silly tourists break and run or we’ll all be done for! The elephant roared into the dust and kicked up more sand and gravel. Andrew slowly lifted his rifle off his shoulder. Please, please don’t let him have to shoot this poor fellow, I thought.

After a few more advances and a lot of dust and dirt, our friend determined that we were no threat to him and retreated. He was so close to us that I doubted that a bullet from Andrew’s gun could have stopped him before he trampled us. I don’t think I took another breath until we were all back in the Land Rover. Once again, terrifying and exciting, the thrill of the next intake of air after the intense fear of being trampled by a force so strong that it would not be stopped.

As we continue to contemplate our precarious place in the world today, it is something to be considered. Who is the elephant: The United States? Russia? China? North Korea? Turkey? And who is holding the single bullet that may or may not be able to halt the advancing elephant, once he is committed to the charge?

In Africa, we put ourselves in the hands of some incredibly skilled guides and trackers, and we did choose to be with them. We also choose our leaders here in the United States in the hope that they will keep us safe from harm. Some are undoubtedly better at it than others. Not all of them are “country whisperers,” as Andrew was an “elephant whisperer.” And even then – who’s to say? All it takes is one wrong move. The closer we get, the greater the thrill, but what is the ultimate cost? These are things to think about when approaching an elephant or an arsenal of dangerous weapons.

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