As a young boy I was typically interested in the animals that had sharp teeth and claws yet was terrified by one animal some often refer to as the gentle giants of Africa. At the time I disagreed with this description.
They were enormous even when viewed from afar and they literally towered above you if they approached. They lacked sharp claws and sharp teeth but were an incredible four metres high, thick skinned, and equipped with tusks that I imagined were only there to harm. Their strength was indescribable and they could push over trees with their foreheads, their feet or even by simply allowing their six ton bodyweight to rest against such a tree. Ears would perk out in intimidation, and with head raised they would bellow loud trumpets and rumbles – as if their sheer size wasn’t intimidating enough already. When approached by one of these giants I would cower under the vehicle seat in tears because at that age, out of sight meant out of mind. It took many years of many these experiences before I started reading more about them, viewing their behaviour and interactions and starting to form a better understanding of what they were really about. They were far from the terrors I had created for myself in my head, but still needed to be respected.
The animals I admired ate meat, yet these were herbivores feeding on grass, leaves, fruit and branches – how could I fear a herbivore that wasn’t there to eat me? They had a mystery about them and an underlying intelligence that often made me question mine. The more time I spent in their presence the more I understood them and admired their beauty, placid nature and temperament, yet I was fully aware of how their placid nature could change if they were disrespected.
They were the African Elephants – the gentle giants of this continent.
Immersed in this unbelievably beautiful environment that never gets old, never disappoints and is ever-changing it almost feels as if I need to attempt to share the experience with those who aren’t able to experience it first hand. One way of doing that is through photography; capturing moments, textures, interactions and representing the feelings felt and a small insight into why us guides choose the profession of a ranger in the African bush.
Being such large animals, elephants are difficult to photograph. One generally attempts to go wide in order to capture the animal in its environment, but to get a more intimate photographic portrayal of what they are really made up of, going in close can be far more effective..
Being close enough to an elephant that you can actually count its hairs and appreciate the intricacies of its skin wrinkles can be an overwhelming experience when you’re in it for the first time. But once that initial trepidation has subsided, looking just that little bit closer can let you connect still further with these giants who, when you look into their eyes, you know are looking back at you…