We were moving slowly and quietly along the bank of a dry river. In the river bed there was a gathering of elephants of all ages. They were drinking from small pools that had been scraped in the fine gravel or waiting their turn. We made a fairly close approach to one group. Elephants have poor eyesight but good hearing and smell. As Leon Varley puts it in his webpage …
To approach a single elephant on foot is worth a hundred sightings of elephant from the back of a vehicle. When you’re afoot everything is of significance. Wind direction, terrain, vegetation, how the animal is behaving. To walk in Africa is to be part of Africa.
The group in the river bed was on our right the wind was from the right. The bank was lightly wooded with Mopane just like the photograph above. It limits visibility but one can walk through it fairly easily. Off to our left a male elephant caught our scent, trumpeted and charged. It came through the Mopane scattering the bushes. Four puny humans turned and ran. Because of our starting position the two tourists were bringing up the rear. Obeid, the tracker, was magnificent. After a few steps he stopped and stood his ground with his hand gun raised. “Run” he urged as we passed him. Leon led the way.
In the gravel of the river bed progress was slow, I was thinking that four large flat feet would find it rather easier than my two size nines. Then behind us Obeid burst into gales of laughter and called us to stop. He beckoned us back. I could think of a number of better directions to take but Leon was keen to see what the story was. Obeid was excited, his usually good English was unable to keep pace with the retelling. So in a mixture of English, Ndebele and charades we were treated to the story of the elephant that charged, snapped the small Mopane like match sticks but finally hit a tree that withstood the onslaught. Only just, it was now standing at a crazy angle with the bark missing from a large area on one side. The force had caused the elephant to lose its footing and stumble. When it picked itself up it decided it didn’t need to charge any more. Obeid’s grandchildren will hear this tale and thanks to him so will mine.
It was a big day for wildlife. We had already seen Spotted Hyena and Wild Dog and later in the day we would encounter a pride of Lions.
It was late morning and getting very hot. The lions were asleep in long grass. We were blissfully unaware of each others presence. We were moving almost silently. Obeid pointed out some tracks, Leon said “Lion”. Twenty metres away five lions got the shock of their lives and scattered in random directions. For a moment two were heading straight for us but realised their error immediately. And they were gone. All over before the scene could be processed, no chance for a photo.