Travels with Susan


How to deal with an elephant

Posted on December 18, 2008 at 1:41 PM

Most guests want to see the Big 5. Usually what I like to do is find out which of the 5 they would most like to see, so I know which part of the reserve I should head towards. They asked for elephants, which I was happy about because I knew exactly where to find them –so we made our way south towards where I had found them earlier that day. It was a long section of road with a ridge on either side. I had briefed my guests before driving into the middle of the herd, so I felt quite comfortable letting the elephants completely surround us. The trees were quite thick around us, so we would find ourselves seemingly alone; and then the ‘grey ghosts’ would reemerge into the open. After about half an hour of enjoying the herd, we decided to be on our way to see what else we could find.

On the way out of the herd one of the other guides called in that he had found a big bull elephant. We were still close enough, so I decided to turn around and show them a full sized male elephant. As I got closer the other guide, Miles, cautioned me to be careful when I approached the bull. I smelt him before I saw him. He was in full Musth, and his legs were dripping. I turned off my engine and we watched. Miles’ Gameviewer was hidden behind a tree, so I couldn’t really see what was going on, but I heard a big thump. I assumed that the bull had gotten a bit too close and he had had to smack the side of his door to ‘show the elephant whose boss’.(The truth was there was nothing you could really do if an elephant wanted to squash you – but there were ways you could make your chances of survival higher. This is also the day that I started talking to the elephants. I talk slowly and calmly repeating ‘easy big fella’, and it seems to work. I’ve been guiding for four years and I’ve never been charged, so I reckon I'm doing something right.)

This definitely put me in the right state of mind, knowing what to expect from this big boy. I pulled as far off as I could (to give him as much room as I could), and waited while he approached us. He was big. I had to remind my guests to stay relaxed. He was really big – and heading right to us. At first he headed towards the passenger door side, which made me a bit uncomfortable. To make matters worse, other guide, David, pulled in right behind me. This is a guiding no-no: makes a quick escape impossible, although ideally it is better not to drive off because this usually makes matters worse.

Luckily, for my nerves sake, the bull turned and made his way towards my side. Don’t ask me why, but the closer they were to me, the more comfortable and in control I felt. Maybe it was because I could see them and gauge their mood, although I’m not sure.

I hadn’t noticed a termite mound next to the driver’s door, but the elephant had. He actually climbed onto it and raised his head. If he was hoping to terrify us, he succeeded, although I wouldn’t let my guests know that. He noticeably seemed to relax when I started talking to him, “easy big fella, it's okay. Easy”. Just then, he started reaching over with his trunk. I’ve known from previous experiences from other guides that once an elephant touches your truck, they get a bit braver and usually end up pushing you. I smacked the door “hey!”

He pulled his trunk back, and almost seemed to be thinking “what the?” – Before very slowly trying once again. I smacked the door again, feeling a little braver now. This was the last straw. He didn’t seem use to my defiance, and found me completely terrifying. He turned around and headed back towards the rest of the herd, and I realised that I hadn’t been breathing. I turned to my guests and congratulated them on handling everything so well. When Miles passed me, he told me that that thump I heard was the elephant smacking his Gameviewer, not him. He had a big dent in his bonnet. I turned around and followed Miles passed David. A little way away I stopped to look at a bird, when suddenly I heard the horrifying sound of a trumpet behind us. David was coming straight towards us at high speed with the big bull right behind him hot on his heels. We decided it was definitely time to get the heck out of there.


Categories: 2008

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