THIS MONSTROUS BULL ELEPHANT came thundering out of the bushes, its legs as thick as a tree, its tusks gleaming like bayonets, its ears flapping wildly, and its beady little eyes red with rage. It skidded to a halt just metres from where I stood, its huge grey body shrouded in clouds of dust. It raised its trunk, splitting the air with a scream. And as it began its death-charge … I woke up. Phew!
Nightmares like that are common, I’m told, when you’re on safari. And I wasn’t the first – or last – to have a sweaty bedtime heart-pounder during a wild African adventure.
We’d arrived the previous day in this vast safari park, several bumpy hours from Nairobi. We’d seen plenty of evidence of elephants on our late-afternoon game-drive – smashed trees, gaping mudholes (for wallowing in), and elephant-droppings the size of footballs. But we’d seen no elephants …
Maybe this morning?
After a quick coffee in the still half-dark, we climbed aboard our Land Cruiser and bounced out along the track.
Last night’s predator-cats had gone into hiding – although we did follow some ominous footprints. Three towering giraffes posed for us on the horizon. A gorgeously-painted oryx with long pointy horns watched us nervously. And zebras were thick on the ground, including two that made us wait while they had a punch-up.
But still no elephants …
We roamed closer to a dried-up river, annoying a cranky crocodile, then spotted several other vehicles that weren’t moving. They’d obviously seen something … and, moments later, we saw them too.
Three large male elephants stood below us on the riverbed. They can smell water from miles away, our driver explained, and these guys had dug down into the sand. Trunks extended, they were now enjoying a cool drink …
Some 300 of these majestic mammals live in this park alone – each of them consuming more than 200kgs of greenage per day (hence the football-sized doos!) and washing it down with more than 200 litres of water!
They’re as smart as the great apes – celebrating birth, mourning their dead, and communicating across vast distances with complex rumbles. Elephants are on the go 16-to-20 hours each day – grabbing a nanna-nap after lunch, even lying down and snoring if it’s safe. Led by the oldest matriarch, they’re extremely social, raising playful babies and strong family units.
When young bulls hit puberty, they’re basically kicked out and left to do their own (largely solitary) thing. This lifestyle obviously agrees with them: healthy males can live for 60 or 70 years, reaching a height of three-and-a-half metres and a weight of five tonnes!
Africa’s jumbos have soft spongy pads on the soles of their feet (they can move like ghosts) … enormous flappy ears, for cooling and hearing … tusks for digging, bowling trees and fighting … thick, wrinkly, super-sensitive skin (a baby can run between the mother’s legs without getting squashed) … plus a multi-purpose trunk that serves as a nose, arm, hand, tool, drinking straw and weapon (powerful enough to kill a lion).
Those three big bulls, not fazed by us tourists, drank their fill and gave each other a playful squirt. Then off they lumbered, elephant-file, into the trees.
Breakfast was calling, back at our lodge. But not before we’d oohed-&-aahed at some warthogs, tails held high in the air … some vultures squabbling over a smelly ‘kill’ … and a four-metre python, asleep beside the track.
Suddenly, one last stop, engine off and voices low. A larger herd of elephants – with some cute-as youngsters – demanded right-of-way. One young female must’ve been on heat – because a nearby bull suddenly gave chase. She ran, feigning total lack of interest. But he, thundering along behind, eventually caught up and had his way with her – right before our startled eyes!
Then they both went back to eating …
Half an hour later, we did the same: bacon, eggs and hash-browns. And, as the sun climbed higher in the sky, another ordinary day in Africa got underway …