I suppose elephants and I don’t get on. My first experience of wild African elephants was at Kigelia Camp, Ruaha Park in Tanzania. On introduction to our really sumptuous tented accommodation we were shown a good old fashioned whistle sitting on the table, just like the ones used by referees in football. Apparently we were to use it should we run into problems – scarily they failed to specify what sort these might be. But I was soon to find out.
After lunch, in the dining tent, I was drawn to a confortable sofa and a book on African wildlife. Slowly other guests and the camp staff drifted off to have an afternoon nap – ready for the drive in the evening.
A loud munching noise drew me to the entrance of the dining tent. Outside, about 10 yards away under the shade of a tree, was a herd of elephants. Actually only 3 but when they are only 10 yards away it seemed like a herd. A large female flapped its ears and turned to warn me; I think she also snorted and took a lunge to reinforce her threat. All totally unnecessary as I had no intention of moving – I was frozen to the spot. After what seemed an hour but really only 10 minutes, I eventually discovered that the elephants didn’t mind me moving inside the tent – but had obviously taken enough dislike to me so as not want to see me outside.
From inside the tent my wife had noticed the encounter – and moved up to have a proper look – without venturing outside. We had never seen elephants this close or realised, when close up, how enormous and threating they look. However the pattern was set: we could sit inside the tent but not try to leave it. My wife thought some pictures would be good and suggested I go to our tent and get the camera. Apparently, on no evidence, she claimed that they didn’t mean us any harm, probably just as scared as us, and anyway I could use the other rear entrance. As soon as I tried to slink out of the back entrance the elephants noticed it and made it clear that when they say stay inside they meant it. I made a mental note to keep the whistle with me instead of the tent – though would blowing it not upset them? They seemed to get upset on the flimsiest of things.
After about two hours the elephants decided to move. It was only then that we noticed a tiny baby elephant, which had been, shielded from our sight by the other elephants. It had apparently sat down and gone to sleep – the mother and others just stopping to guard over it until it woke. With the little one’s nap finished they just moved away – eerily quietly and merged into the shrubbery within seconds.
My other experience was in India. We were staying at Jim’s Jungle Retreat in the Corbett National Park. The guide suggested an early morning walk through the jungle; he assured me, tapping his backpack, that should we meet anything dangerous he had the necessary things. I was impressed that he was carrying a gun to guard us.
The walk was fantastic as the guide pointed out various birds and animals and also the spoors of a tiger, which had been there very recently. I brooded on the word “recently”. Tigers are solitary animals – not surprising as they attack and eat anything they come across. As it so happened we didn’t come across any tigers but there was a roar, which the guide said was a herd of elephants but quite distant. The noises got nearer but the guide was unruffled – claiming that they would just pass us by, as they didn’t bother anyone unless they felt threatened. I promised not to threaten them.
Soon the herd was within a hundred yards or so and they stopped to have a look at us. Just like the African elephants, these too apparently feel threatened on the flimsiest of evidence – basically just seeing me. They made a mini charge towards us, we moved behind a large tree to flummox them. To display their displeasure at this, one of them uprooted a fully grown tree and threw it aside. Our guide had been undoing his backpack and took out what looked like a small firecracker. I was expecting a gun but the guide confidently lit up the cracker and threw it towards the elephants and it exploded – like a small firecracker! The elephants didn’t even notice the noise and started to move towards us. The guide said run and matched his talk with action. He was surprisingly nippy but not nearly as nippy as my wife and I. The elephants roared their frustration at us disappearing so fast.
Over breakfast the guide suggested an elephant safari. Apparently you feel quite safe riding them through the forest.