He’s an elephant whisperer

22nd June 2014

Elephant caught on a camera trap at Makuleke

Monday 16th June 2014

I didn’t sleep well last night, I think I’m becoming anxious about what happens next, my time in Africa is almost up, 46 days and counting. I shouldn’t be thinking about the future, I should instead concentrate on the now. So that’s what I’m doing, it’s an incredible tonic. Especially so when you have Alan MacSmith in town, he’s an elephant whisperer.

Alan arrived yesterday, he simply appeared, I presume he arrived by car but I heard nothing other than elephants trumpeting. Thinking back, this was very probably the elephants announcing his arrival.

When Alan is in town there’s always sure to be one or two incredible elephant encounters. Today was my day to experience such an encounter for myself. Alan and I took the students out across the flood plain, through the fever tree forest. The first encounter came at 300m, the second at 50m, the final at 15m.

Having seen a breeding herd slowly making their way to the pan from across the flood plain we moved ourselves into a good position to watch them come down for their morning thirst quencher. Whilst we were waiting an ele bull came down, he was in the early stages of musth with a slight swagger.

He was totally unaware of us as we sat comfortably on the ridge overlooking the pan. He didn’t stay long before he wandered off aimlessly almost completing a figure of eight before eventually disappearing east. I could have headed back to camp now very content to chat excitedly about this 50m encounter over tea and lemony creams but this was only just the start.

The breeding herd weren’t playing ball so we carried on from Hlangaluwe Pan towards Mangeba for our pick up. Here we came across our musthy bull again. He was now coming back towards us. This is where Alan worked his magic, but before he waved his wand (aka tracking stick) he gave us a couple of options, 1. We could, in fact we should retreat to the ridge 2. We stay here for what could be an invaluable learning experience.

Needless to say we opted for the second option, remaining motionless and standing firm. The gentle giant carried on towards us, swaying slightly under the influence. Alan moved across the group, this made the elephant aware that we were there, surprising the elephant any closer would not have been good.

He kept on coming but now so he could see us he held his head up high. There was not anger, no malice just pure curiosity. On a couple of occasions he swung his pendulum like head towards us, this made my heart pound even harder.

As he passed us I looked into his eyes, they were barely open. He was half asleep, he really couldn’t be bothered with the eight people frozen to the veld just 15 metres from him. Throughout the whole experience my heart was thumping from start to finish, so much so the elephant was surely aware.