Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Arrgh! More megafauna...

Today I meant to write about a small, innocuous bird, but circumstances have overtaken me.

By this I mean I'm feeling too jittery to sit and think about anything with feathers (no offense to any ornithologists out there).

You see, this afternoon the dogs and I inadvertently strolled into the middle of a herd of elephants.

This has never happened to me before. Although I've met elephants on foot in the past, I've always been on 'elephant alert' (i.e. hyper-anxious and wary due to obvious elephant occupation) and have spotted the creatures before we were actually nose to... trunk.

Not today. Unfortunately, I'd been lulled into believing the wanderers had gone home. On Saturday, the main road leading back toward Kruger had been generously festooned with elephant droppings, and I'd made the obvious (erroneous) assumption.

It's easy to know where elephants have been by the massive, circular foot prints, broken branches, felled trees, lakes of urine, prodigious heaps of dung (100 kg or 220 lbs daily), overturned vehicles and trampled dog-walkers. They also pong (the elephants, and - come to think of it - trampled dog-walkers). It's much harder to know where they're going. Photo by Arno Meintjes.

So today, as the dogs and I ambled along the track beside the riverbed and I was wondering what kind of soup to make for dinner, we rounded a corner to meet three large elephants marching along the track toward us. They were walking closely in single file and were only 15 meters/yards ahead. We all stopped dead and stared at each other in amazement. The two elephants at the rear stuck their heads out to gawk at me around the lead animal, and they all flared out their ears. My field of view became entirely elephant-filled. I immediately swivelled around and began walking quickly back the way we'd come; a decision the dogs seemed more than happy to comply with. Glancing over my shoulder, I was hoping to see the elephants reacting in the same way. They weren't. They were still striding along the track and were rapidly closing the (very small) distance between us. At this point I thought, 'F*#! the don't-run policy', irrationally shouted "Run!" (a command unknown to my bewildered dogs) and took off down the track. Of course, I had a snowflake's chance in Hell of out running them if they gave chase, but I was praying they'd not had a bad day. Fortunately I think my shout startled them, because - risking a fleeting look back - I saw them swing off the track and stride away up the hill.

What you don't want to meet while walking the dogs.

I was just slowing down to catch my breath (running is NOT my forte), and the dogs were gazing at me incredulously (they'd never seen me take flight before), when an elephant clambered up the bank on our left, and lumbered on to the track eight metres/yards ahead of us. We stopped running. We all stared. I thought, 'There's nothing I can do'. I didn't think about the trusty pepper spray in my pocket (which wouldn't reach an elephant's eyes; maybe its trunk-tip? On second thoughts, getting up the nose of an enraged elephant probably wouldn't help matters).

The elephant looked disgruntled, swinging back and forth as it shifted its weight from one foreleg to the other. It flapped its ears and then jogged across the track, tail curled in anxiety, to retreated up the hill to our right. It wasn't very big (as elephants go); in fact, it was only a youngster. A youngster with a Mum? Where was she?? I was starting to panic again, trying to check every nearby bush and boulder for rampaging matriarchs. The youngster was now walking parallel to the track but less than ten metres away from it. Figuring that he, at least, didn't appear belligerent, and fearing that his (highly protective?) Mum could burst forth at any moment, I dragged the dogs back into a run, hurtled down the track past the young elephant and raced on towards home.

Quite a workout and NOT something I want to do every day!

What you NEVER want to meet. Photo by Jussi Mononen who's a braver soul than I.
NB: in-focus images of charging elephants are as rare as hen's teeth.


  1. I think this would be the only time I do not envy you were you are all the time. The only thing that I have had that even came close to that was in the Kruger when a lone Male elephant charged the peoples car on the other side of the road and pushed it into a ditch a quick u turn sorted that out but you kept on running into them YIKES!!

  2. You definitely cannot say you do not have enough excitement in yout life Lynda. What with mongoose to feed, waterbuck on the lawn, hippo chewing up your garden, lions footprints and elephants chasing you off your path, it seems like you never have a dull moment. :)But that is life in the bush and I am sure you will never give up the life for all the money in the world. It is what makes us do what we do. :)

  3. One can only imagine the adrenaline rush you must have experienced. I was terrified by an angry elephant that threatened the car ahead of us in Kruger. Our little Renault would have been little protection if it came after us.

  4. My heart is pounding just reading about your elephant encounter!

  5. Great shots of these gorgeous pachiderms.

  6. Philip,
    It only takes a couple of experiences, like the one you describe, to become very nervous about elephants!

    I suspect the excitement is only just beginning here. It was 34C yesterday, which will flush out the snakes - the true bane of my life!

    Ellies are just way bigger than an animal SHOULD be. I used to think I'd love to go back in time and see dinosaurs, but I've gone off the idea since encountering the gigantic beasts living around here.

    In truth, your little newts are probably more dangerous. Just less ostentatious.

    I'm afraid I start feeling anxious just looking at that last shot!

  7. I ran up on more elephants than I care to admit or think about in the bushveldt up around Chobe in Bots and along the Caprivi strip. Vegetation transects are nasty like that.

    Glad this ended well for you!

  8. Your writing is priceless. The best line: "You see, this afternoon the dogs and I inadvertently strolled into the middle of a herd of elephants."

  9. Daniel,
    I've only been to Chobe once, but I've never seen so many elephants in one place. The trip was hair-raising because we were driving a two-wheel-drive vehicle and couldn't afford to stop on the sandy tracks (or we'd get bogged). It was like playing dodgem cars only with elephants!

    Memorizing Nature,
    Thank you. I suspect that it's actually my life that's 'priceless' (valueless?) as far as the local fauna is concerned.

  10. Haing been at the wrong end of a heard of charging elephants I know what you mean.

  11. Max-e,
    I sympathize with anyone who's ever been anywhere NEAR a herd of charging elephants!


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