Day 292: Elephant Encounter

Sat. 1st June 2013

Close encounters of the elephant kind!I had a really good night’s sleep and I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or not. Part of the purpose of the Dove’s Nest is to get to hear the animals in the wild so, to an extent, I feel we missed out. Still, the sight of the dawn over the bush just makes us smile. It’s back to camp for a quick wash and brush up before breakfast and our morning game drive. [06:18, photos: 4]

The view at dawn from our treehouseThe morning game drives are the long ones (5 hrs) and whilst we could have had a lazy morning at the Dove’s Nest, we think there is more chance of seeing animals on a drive. Good call! We’re back with Daffy and two Swiss ladies this time. The Swiss can’t have been in Africa long as they want Daffy to stop for every impala – maybe, we’ve just been spoiled but we’ve been promised a walk in the bush and I don’t want to run out of time for it. We do, however, get close to a giraffe and that is a bit more like it. [07:43, photos: 18]

Arial dogfight - over a fishSoon any quibbles vanish as we come across a trio of Saddlebill Storks, an African Fish Eagle and a heron hanging around a waterhole. I’m not bothered about the heron but the others are big, beautiful and fascinating. They are fishing. We first see one of the storks catch a fish and be mobbed by the others. An aerial dogfight ensues. It’s fascinating but not clear either who wins or why the stork didn’t just simply swallow the fish. [07:56 photos: 58]

Saddlebill stork fishingAfrican Fish Eagle in flightIn the end the eagle watches from a nearby tree and the others return to the waterhole and resume fishing. The hole is clearly drying up and the fish have no chance – like shooting fish in a barrel (apart from the lack of either barrel or gun!). The colours and long, gangly, legs of the storks combined with the early morning light and the reflections from the water made for some incredible photos (2 more rated 5* for our collection!) Either the female storks have yellow eyes and the males black or vice versa – whichever, we were captivated. [08:07, photos: 145]

Yellow-billed HornbillLilac-breasted RollerEven when we managed to tear ourselves away, it was only a hundred yards to a pair of jackals just lying in the sun. We haven’t even got to the park proper yet. There are yet more distractions as, at last, we are able to get good close up pictures of the Yellow-Billed Hornbill, iridescent starlings, and, my personal favourite, the Lilac-breasted Roller – both on the tree and in flight. [08:41, photos: 184]

Heading for the waterholeAnother of the advantages of the game drives with Daffy is that he is able to take us off the main tracks and onto the barely defined trails that loop into the bush. We’re heading towards the edge of a forest where Daffy can see elephants emerging and heading for a nearby water hole. Daffy decides that this is a good opportunity to do our bush walk as we should be able to get ahead of some elephants and wait for them in the forest. [09:08, photos: 213]

With Daffy and the elephants in the backgroundFirst, though comes the safety briefing. Some of the briefings we’ve had have been perfunctory but when delivered by a man with a loaded rifle, it tends to concentrate the mind. In short, if challenged by an elephant, stand still, do not run and, above all, listen to Daffy. It is a testament to our faith in him, built upon his knowledge and experience and the confidence that he exudes, that we didn’t question this at all. [09:29:, photos: 223]

Shaking an acacia treeHe leads us, in single file, through the grass and into the forest. We can hear the elephant before we see them, crashing and crunching through the forest. Daffy gets us first to stand hard against a pair of tree trunks and then finds a better spot, protected on three sides by a big tree with a forked trunk and a thick, horizontal branch at waist height that provides a great viewing platform. We don’t have long to wait before the first elephants appear. They are clearly foraging and when there isn’t enough on the ground, they press their head and trunk against an Acacia tree and give it a good shake to dislodge the seed pods. All this is going on within 20 metres of us. [10:01, photos: 270]

Not very pleased to see us!Then one of the big bull elephants notices us. He probably can’t see us as their eyesight isn’t good but perhaps he can smell or hear us. He knows something is there and he isn’t very happy about it. We’re standing behind a thick branch, cameras clicking away, but when this huge elephant approaches to within 5 or 6m, ears jutting out sideways making him look even bigger and stamps a front foot to kick sand at us, the branch doesn’t seem thick at all. Involuntarily, I take a step backwards. “Stand still” Daffy reminds us. Sure enough after a few more moments of staring, the elephant shakes his head and lumbers off. An incredible experience and one of the stand out moments of our trip. [10:13, photos: 304]

Elephant jawbone with a single tooth!After the elephants have moved on, so do we. Back to the truck and then to the waterhole that the elephants were heading for where we stop for coffee and find a herd of zebra there too. The combination of elephants and zebra, and all of the comings and goings, is mesmerising. We’re captivated and the cameras continue to work overtime. There is an elephants skull here bleaching in the sun, and Daffy points out the honeycomb nature of the skull (to save weight) and how their teeth work (just one pair, top and bottom, each side). [11:21, photos: 402]

At the waterholeWe are all buzzing on our way back to the camp. Over lunch, we swap notes with the other groups (with 16 people now staying, The Hide is nearly full). They are pleased with what they saw, but they didn’t get as up close to the elephants as we did. We might have been a little disappointed with our time in the hide by the waterhole yesterday, but this more than made up for it. [12:41, photos: 427]

Wildebeast (gnu) out of the shade at lastOur sunset drive is going to be our last game drive here as we are moving on tomorrow morning. We are with Daffy and the Swiss ladies again and heading off in the other direction along a firebreak track parallel to the railway. The drive takes some 30 – 40 minutes and there is little to see en-route other than a herd of wildebeest (obligingly standing in the sunshine for us) and a few baboons in the trees. When we get to our destination, another waterhole, we find that our buffalo from yesterday are there waiting for us. [17:06, photos: 464]

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?This is clearly a good spot for them with a large grassy plain (vlei, I suppose) surrounding a waterhole which is kept topped up by a wind driven pump. Yesterday, we got a sense of their number by the length of time it took for them to parade past us – we were never able to see them all at once. Now, they are all in sight, arrayed around the plain. Daffy picks a spot on a raised mound close to the water pump, parks up, jumps out and announces it is time for our drinks. [17:18, photos: 466]

A good place for buffaloSome of the closer buffalos watch us warily – as we watch them warily, not wanting to be on the receiving end of those horns. Most just ignore us and graze away. We can then turn our attention to the sights around us and the beautiful images of the sun setting behind the palm trees. The light changes constantly as the sun slips down and the stars start to come out – an easy way to spot Venus as it is the first ‘star’ that appears. All too soon, it is time to get back on the truck, wrap up against the rapidly cooling air and bounce our way back to camp. [18:05, photos: 528]

Sunset at the end of a great daySo many special things have happened today. Like the elephants that we met this morning, we will never forget it. We’ll be helped by the photos that we’ve taken and the words I’ve written here. We are so, so glad we came to The Hide. We could have gone the cheaper DIY route and hired a car and stayed at the Safari Lodge and driven on the ‘main’ roads round the park. But we wouldn’t have seen half as much without Daffy and the 4wd safari truck. And especially, without Daffy, we’d never have got so close to the elephants. There is no price you can put on a day like today.

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One Response to Day 292: Elephant Encounter

  1. Scary being so close to the elephants but we had faith in Daffy our guide.

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