It was the sound of trumpeting that drew our attention.
Often when encountering a predator, herds of elephants with young calves will trumpet, squeal and rumble loudly in agitation. As the sounds were originating from within the palm thickets lining the banks of the Sand River, we presumed a leopard may be in the vicinity. Upon finding the herd of elephants, we realised that we were completely mistaken.
The trumpeting was coming from a young calf, running wildly back and forth through the bushes. It was rushing around in circles, flailing its trunk while letting off hysterical squeals. Just behind it was the rest of the herd, all lying about and rolling around in a shallow pool of mud. Within the family group was another calf, this one tiny, probably not more than a few weeks old. There was no leopard around – just a herd of extremely excited elephants.
Most of the group were lying on their sides, flapping mud all over the place with their trunks. While we enjoyed the spectacle, the calf continued to rampage joyfully around behind us, throwing branches around harmlessly. Being a silent spectator to a show like this is a unique and memorable experience.
The arrival of another small family group caused the initial gathering to disperse away from the muddy pan rather swiftly. They all rose quickly to their feet, herded the youngest calf into the safety of the middle of the group and hastened away. This enabled the newcomers to climb into the muddy pool for their own wallowing session.
We were parked at a safe distance, and now the initial herd decided to move right past us. One of the cows paused only a few metres from the Land Rover, inquisitively lifting her trunk to test the scent in the air. The moment was frozen in time, particularly for Trainee Ranger Pat Grealy, who was seated on the tracker’s seat up front.
Once the cow had moved on, Pat turned around revealing his elation at the experience. Being in close proximity to elephants is a truly humbling experience, a feeling that can best be described by the expression on Pat’s face below…
Of all the wild animals out here, elephants are by far the largest and most powerful. When for a brief period of time, you share a moment with one of these massive pachyderms, time slows down. All worries are forgotten as we are reminded of our true significance in the grand scheme of things…