Upset jumbo

After finding buffalo and lions close to camp, that night we heard lots of loud nocturnal noises, including lions roaring but also other unidentified nocturnal sounds that we allocated to hippo and/or elephants. In the early hours of the morning hyenas also called so our hopes were up and an early morning exploration of the surrounds was in order.

We followed the Zambezi down river, past the buffalo that were now moving towards the river, but we found no trace of predators. After a while we decided to try to contact the world again and went for the cellphone signal spot following our GPS (we had entered the coordinates on a previous visit). We searched fruitlessly for a while until we decided that probably the hot wind was blowing it away! We decided to get back to camp before the heat became more intense.

As usual we got delayed. First it was a pool where a very photogenic saddle-bill stork was wadding and then we watched the antics of a slender mongoose looking rather cunning!

DSCN9810 copy 2

DSCN9847 copy 2

We got back to Gwaya camp by lunchtime and it was already quite hot. As usual our elephant bull askari[1] was in attendance, waiting for us while browsing and picking up elephantine delicacies: the acacia pods from the Apple-ring acacias![2] Aware of our noisy arrival it gently moved off while we spent time putting together the mess the baboons make when you leave your camp alone.

The elephant decided to cross the river in search of fresh grass, its usual move. It decided to cross from our camp so I left the baboon-recovery exercise for a while to take a few pictures of the jumbo crossing.


Unfortunately the shots were not what I thought so I only took a couple and then filmed its arrival to the opposite bank. For some reason it chose the steepest place. It showered and beat the water to get some mud before it climbed on the bank with some degree of difficulty. I stopped filming and went back to set right the baboon damage.

After crossing the narrow channel the elephants, usually, spend the afternoon on a wide grassy plain that exists between the canal and the main body of the river, perhaps 500 m away. I forgot about the elephant as it would only return later at night and be there tomorrow again. However, after about ten minutes from the crossing I herd it trumpeting and running back towards our camp, trunk up and shaking its head rather violently. It crushed back into the canal and started re-crossing it!

The jumbo returning.

The jumbo returning.

I saw it coming so grabbed the camera and placed myself at a good spot to film it coming back across the water. I videoed it while coming but, in my enthusiasm, I forgot that I was quite close from its exit and unexpectedly; he climbed the bank and charged me!

As you can imagine -at my age- I am not too keen to find out if an elephant is charging or mock-charging! Therefore my finger pressed the stop recording button and I withdrew.

The fact that I am writing these lines comfortably seated at home means that it was –luckily- a mock-charge and he stopped after a couple of more steps!

The reasons for its return and bad temper will remain a mystery and a matter of speculation. It could have been an encounter with a bee swarm, common at this time of the year, as elephants do not like them. There was also a bull buffalo nearby that could have irritated the pachyderm? We will never know but I did got my adrenalin rush!

After our interaction the cheeky elephant did not wander off but remain at camp, clearly as a demonstration of his unquestionable dominance over me! During that time we kept an eye on each other and I was careful to avoid having my siesta under his favored acacia, just in case!

A while later -after re-gaining its compusure- I saw it crossing back towards the Zambezi. This time he chose another spot about fifty metres up river and, this time, it did not come back until the following morning.

Gwaya camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe, September 2015.


[1] Guard in KiSwahili.

[2] Acacia albida

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