South African Safari: The Sound of Trumpets

Safari Sunset 1

It was the sound of trumpets; loud and clear. Curiously and abruptly turning our heads towards the noise, we saw a herd of them trotting down the plains. Something was bothering them; they seemed anxious. Half of the herd barged quickly ahead, while the other half tried to keep pace behind. Driving briskly through the separated herd, we made our way onto a narrow muddy path that had been curated for jeeps, allowing the vehicle to cruise amidst the deep forest.

Finally coming to a halt, our ranger said, “It is dangerous to get in between a mother and her children. They are very protective of their family, and will toss aside anything in their way. That’s why I couldn’t stop earlier.” We lost sighting of the mammals, as they entered the thickets. Maintaining a slow pace of 15 km per hour, we peered through the groves to relocate them. A few seconds pass, and we see them again; this time coming in right behind us on the curated path, trumpeting and quickly closing the gap between them and our jeep. The creatures were barely 3 meters away. The mother could have easily grazed us with her snout. “Don’t panic, stay calm and relaxed,” said the ranger, while maintaining a steady pace of the vehicle. I took a breath, and focused to reduce my heart rate that I realized had quickly risen. I turned back to look at the mammals charging at us. They were majestic creatures. They owned the jungle; they knew it, and in that moment, we knew it too.

The ranger was carefully scrutinizing the animal behavior. He had told us that the animals would tell you what they want; we just have to pick up on their signs. I noticed fluids, resembling a mixture of tears and sweat, running down the side of the mother’s ears. It is a sign that the animal is stressed, or feeling emotional. I remember reading about that in a novel, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. The ranger confirmed this notion. The mammals were heading somewhere, and trying to get there as quickly as they could. They needed us to get out of their way.

For a few hundred meters, we were forced to drive straight, as there was no other path we could take in the thickets. We eventually arrived at a fork, where the road diverged; one continuing straight, and the other, a short dead-end path. The ranger decided to back the jeep into the dead-end to make way for the mammals to go ahead of us, and to give us a good sighting of them as they did. One of the riders asked the ranger, “Do you have a backup plan if they come at us instead of going straight?”, “No” answered the ranger, “We’ll just have to stay calm if they do.”

One of the mothers, who seemed to be leading the herd, stopped at the fork, staring directly at us, while calculating her course. The others stopped behind her, awaiting her direction. We stared back, anxiously in anticipation of her decision. The naughty child got restless, and started to come at us. The mother let out a soft grunt, and the child quickly retracted back to his mother. About 15 seconds passed when she finally nodded her head at us, just slightly, and then continued on her journey. We sat in our jeep and watched in amazement, as over 20 elephants marched behind her down the path.

Here are some photos I was able to capture of this brief 5-minute encounter

Elephant 6

Elephants running into the thickets

Elephant 1

Elephants coming out of the thickets onto the curated path behind us

Elephant 2

Elephants getting closer and closer to us

Elephant 5

The mother and her child, while she was making her decision. You can see the fluid that looks like a tear drop running down her face, between her ears and eyes. That’s a sign she is stressed and emotional.

Elephant 4

The herd walking passed us, as we watched from the jeep. Notice some other elephants with same fluids at the side of their faces, mainly from the mothers.

Elephant 3

More of the herd walking past us. There was easily over 20, maybe even up to 30. It was a huge family of elephants, up to 3 generations.

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