The fervour of elephant love should never be underestimated. Look like a threat to an elephant child and death will surely follow. But in peaceful surroundings, and from safe quarters, the way a matriarchal group shepherds and protects their young is marvellous to behold. The header photo was taken in the Maasai Mara in 1999 from a safari truck, but the account below is of a scene witnessed in 1992, one night at Kilaguni Lodge in Tsavo West national park. Some of you will have read this piece before, but then I think it’s worth retelling. You can’t say too much about elephants, can you:
Night comes swiftly in the African bush but never quietly. As the sun drops behind the Chyulu Hills, so the pipe and whirr of frog and bug ratchet up a few decibels. It is like a million high tension wires being pinged and twanged. If you listen with both ears it can drive you mad. Likewise, if you allow yourself to succumb to the night’s sticky heat and the hypnotic scents of thorn flowers, then do not be surprised when the sudden scream of a tree hyrax stops your heart.
But we are not going mad. And our hearts are just fine. We think we have cracked this Africa lark. Well sprayed with insect-repellent, all accessible parts covered as can be, anti-malarials ingested, it seems safe to sit out on our veranda at Kilaguni Lodge and do some night-time big game watching.
Below our room is a barren stretch of red volcanic earth, and a water-hole lit up by two search lights. The illuminated circle that the lights create is like a stage set. It seems we are seated in a mysterious wildlife theatre waiting for the cast to appear.
The contrast is disturbing. By day, this self-same set is furnace red, littered with volcanic spoil; it is the haunt of the cadaverous-looking marabou storks and the occasional zebra. By night, all is softer, surreal. You feel you might dissolve through the light into perpetual darkness; for out there the night goes on forever, doesn’t it?
And so we go on gazing at the scene. It takes some time to realize that small groups of impala are emerging from the gloom. Their stillness is mesmerizing. Perhaps they are not there at all.
The impala are wary. You can almost see the charge of anxiety ripple through the herd. We hold our breath and stare into the dark behind the lights.
And then we see them – black hulks gliding through the thorn trees. Elephants. They have come so silently, walking always on tiptoes, their heels cushions of fat to muffle their footfalls. Slowly they move in from the bush. Even in the dimness beyond the pool, their hides glow red, irradiated by the igneous dirt they have blown over themselves.
In the wings the elephants pause. It is hard to say how many are there. After a few moments two peel away and the rest of the group retreats again into darkness. Two large matriarchs now head for the pool. At the water’s edge they part, and in matched strides stake out the water-hole from opposite directions. There’s an angry trumpeting when an impala fails to withdraw fast enough, and only when the entire bank is clear do the elephants go down and drink. Yet they have hardly taken a couple of gulps when they move back and take up guard duty, one at each end of the mud bank.
We are transfixed. We cannot fathom the plot, but note that, despite the elephants’ aggressive stance, there has been a concerted gracefulness to their routine. It crosses my mind that the great choreographer, Balanchine, once made a ballet for elephants. Now we see they have dances of their own.
And so we wait.
Slowly the rest of the group reappears, moving as one in the tightest huddle. As they enter the spotlight we understand. Tucked safely between the legs of four large cows are three infants. Like precious celebrities surrounded by an escort of heavies, the youngsters are guided to the water. There, with tiny trunks they cannot quite control, they drink their fill. The whole thing takes only a few minutes. Then, with this life-and-death task accomplished, the sentinels re-join the group, and the small herd leaves as silently as it came, melting into the backdrop.
For the rest of this piece see earlier post The Tsavo Big Game Show – It’s A Dangerous Pursuit
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
55 thoughts on “Most Beloved ~ The Elephant Child”
A very beautiful and moving post. I was almost there. I have never had an experience like that, and so reading your words was all the more powerful. I saw a bit more of the relationship between the hyrax and the elephant. Thanks.
Thank you, Shimon. It’s interesting to keep them in mind together, isn’t it – elephants and hyrax. Looking so different in every way, and yet kinfolk.
Your story reminded me of the way I’ve seen the adult hyraxes teach their children.
I’m thinking I need to look into hyraxes after what you’ve been saying about them. I only had one blurry photo, taken the same time as the elephants at Kilaguni. It was of an adult hyrax with its offspring perched on its back, and very much as if was the normal form of child transport.
I very much enjoyed the glimpse into the night life of elephants, Tish, and the love for those adorable little ones.
Glad you could come along, Janet 🙂
Wonderful photographs and a lovely story. I have always thought that we could learn so much from elephant’s behaviour. Enjoy the weekend – janet 🙂
Happy weekend to you too, Janet.
Excellent, Tish. I have read the story before and it’s worth reading over and over again. The photos are gorgeous, this is such a moving post.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend. x
That’s very lovely of you, Dina. Thank you. And a fine weekend to you Fab Four.
I am so in love with elephants. We have so much to learn from them and I am so glad that there are peaceful souls out there who care for them. What a wonderful adventure this must have been.
We were very lucky to have this time in Africa 🙂
I enjoyed reading this. Very passionately written. Beautiful.
Many thanks, Habiba.
You transported me to this magical scene Tish. The photo of the elephants is astounding. We saw some babies in our time in Africa and so protected by the herd. It was a sight I shall never forget and forever treasure.
Thank you, Sue. Elephants ARE amazing, and it looks like some headway is being made shutting down the ivory trade. Fingers crossed.
Like Sue I was transported as if I sat there with you. They are amazing creatures. I hope we get our own African wilderness experience one day – perhaps next year . . . . .
I’m sure you will find yourselves there one day.
A stunningly beautiful and evocative piece of of writing, Tish. Thank you so much. 🙂 🙂
Thank you, Jo 🙂
Lovely tale. You are such a fine story-teller, Miss Tish
If you were here, I’d give you a big hug!
I’ll have to settle for a cyber hug in lieu. 🙂
Hugs in space then 🙂
There is something very special about seeing African elephants in the wild, isn’t there. You describe the experience beautifully in this post, and I can so relate after a couple of safaris various places on the African continent myself. The photo of the herd of elephants and their infants is beautifully captured.
Thank you for all those very nice comments, Otto.
I was totally mesmerised with these beautiful recollections of a unique sighting. Again your words did not need a photo as you took us into the heart of Africa. I could hear, smell and imagine the setting. Thank you Tish such a lovely interpretation of this weeks theme. Now I am going back to read your other post
Much appreciate all this reading you’re doing, Pauline, and also the very kind comments. So encouraging!
You should write a book about your time in Africa. It would be captivating
Now there’s a thought 🙂
Beautifully said, Tish. A moving post. Thank you.
Many thanks for reading, Jennie.
My pleasure, Tish.
I always want to be there, watching, smelling the warm bodies as they move hugely and softly. Wonderful story!
Yes their concerted quietness is the most astonishing thing. You only hear them if they stop to wrestle with a tree branch – or if they start rumbling.
Many thanks 🙂
I spent just one week in Botswana but I’ll never forget the moment when I saw elephants close up. Again in Mole, Ghana it was incredible, and a bit scary, being on foot with them perhaps thirty feet away. My experiences are nowhere near as extensive as yours, but still very precious.
Precious indeed, however they come, Gilly. And being on foot too is especially awareness raising!
nice photo and writing….
and love the flow
like how night comes swiftly but not quietly –
and even the opening the fervor of elephant love…
such beautiful creatures
Many thanks, Yvette.
Your post was balletic itself. Now I’ve got a hankering to go down the rabbit of hole of Balanchine and elephant ballets.
Ha! Now you’ve got me wondering if there’s maybe a clip on You Tube!!! Many thanks for reading 🙂
Kilaguni lodge… I spent many a night there, waching…
Thanks for the memories memsahib.
Such a rich description. It took me back to a floodlit waterhole in Etosha. Waterhole etiquette is fascinating.
I envy you the Etosha experience. There was a moment when we thought we might be going to live in Namibia for a stretch.
Beautiful writing, and an amazing experience!
Many thanks for your comment 🙂