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Phinda Wildlife Research Project: 28 November - 12 December 2023*
Elephants in the night!
October’s Ranger Course has been one that I will not want to forget ever in my life! It has truly been an amazing two weeks spent in the African bush with wild animals and has made me realize where we humans fit into the greater scheme of life.
A clear evening with the stars so bright that it hurts your eyes when you look up, a bush fire, a sleeping bag and an excited yet apprehensive group of individuals. We were on a sleep-out, which is something that I do with all groups who join me for the Ranger Course. There is a distant rustle in the bush – nothing too serious – and then suddenly the whole riverbed erupted and came to life…
Not just one of these gentle big-footed giants, but whole family herds and also male bulls. We slowly got to our feet and moved to the protection of the vehicle. We stood in awe as these ‘Ghosts of the Trees’ descended around us, with their trunks extended, sniffing, ears listening and looking at us through those large ochre eyes.
"Be real still and stay behind," I give the word to the group. "No photos at all." This is one of those moments when nature unfolds its deepest riches to us and it would be a sin to try and try and take a snapshot of it. Instead, we simply stood, awestruck and silent, as the whole herd enveloped us in their presence. At one stage a calf started to suckle from its mother in full view of us. I can tell you that watching these big feet at close range, in the soft hue of the red lamp, was most rewarding.
We were given an indication of how relaxed the elephants were with us when some of the calves lay down and slept and even the adults dozed off for a few minutes. The continuous feeding and the constant soft rumbling sound, as they communicated to each other, was also a sure sign that they weren’t threatened by us or by our presence. This moving experience lasted for a period of two hours.
As some stepped closer to us, we hugged the vehicle even closer. They eventually passed on by, feeding and touching each other with their trunks as only they can do. Long into the night, we could hear branches breaking and rumbling as the elephants moved off into the darkness. The night eventually swallowed us up into a slumber, except for the two people awake ‘on duty’ standing guard over the rest of the group…
An unforgettable sleep-out.
By Johann Lombard
Professional guide and training officer