"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Africa Journals, Ch. 30, Petulant Pachyderms

The Africa Journals

Chapter 30
Petulant pachyderms

You know ... they say an elephant never forgets.
What they don't tell you is, you never forget an elephant.—
Bill Murray, Larger Than Life

We drive along a sandy road that parallels the Chobe River, watching geese and wading birds and, nearer the river, those huge round hippos.  There are nowhere near as many elephants along the river today as there were on our previous river cruise, though we are here at the same time, yet something intangible seems to add weight to my suspicion:   This is a charmed trip.

Sacred Ibis and Egyptian geese

Cape Buffalo

How can this docile Cape Buffalo be considered the most dangerous animal in Africa?

From out of the brush comes a medium-sized elephant.  It veers off from its approach and crosses immediately behind the Land Rover before turning back towards the river.  Is it my imagination, or is there something a bit confrontational in its attitude?


Ahead of us, a larger elephant is walking along the road.  I notice the tip of its trunk is twitching back and forth, a movement I associate with irritability, but then, I don’t know elephants and I wonder if this is an ordinary elephant thing or a universal indication of irritability.   I get my answer as soon as we draw abreast of the creature.

About 12 feet from me at this point.

Whew!   But that trunk still twitches.

I think the guide/driver recognizes a potentially dangerous situation, too, because as soon as I realize that elephant could reach its immense trunk into the rear seat of the safari vehicle and easily snatch me out, he pulls forward, away from the petulant pachyderm.

Leopard tortoise, one of the Small Five.

Farther along the river road, a Cape Buffalo emerges from the trees and we stop to watch.   We are well aware that the buffalo is considered the most dangerous of African animals because of its bad temper and unpredictability.   It saunters off.

Was it because of the little scare that elephant had given me that made me turn around?   There’s another Cape buffalo coming up from behind.  Yet, this one also doesn’t seem to care and walks right past the safari vehicle, almost close enough to touch—not that any of would dare to attempt such a foolish thing.

From the high branches of trees, vultures and fish eagles watch carefully.   

We swing inland and pass a dormant termite mound with a woolly caper bush growing from it like a crown.

A Red-billed Hornbill creeps through the grass.   “When I asked my father why they had such big bills,” says Brian, our tour guide/naturalist, “he said it was a handle to flip them over on the grill.”   Brian had a really unusual father, it seems, and the stories sound like something my own would have told.

Carmine bee-eater

We come across a giraffe.

This is the problem with trying to photograph a giraffe that's too close.

Word of a lion sighting comes over the radio and we go back to the river road.  We watch for long minutes next to other safari vehicles, and then she moves in the dense brush and we catch a glimpse.

We drive a little way from the lion and stop for sundowners.

I just liked the rain-wash pattern in the sand.

Back inland, at a point where three roads meet an elephant trail, dozens of baboons crowd the road, with more coming from the distant ridges.   We stop to watch.

Movement from the left catches my eye.  It’s a teenaged bull elephant coming up from the river valley.  Something tells me to keep an eye on him.   As he gets closer—while the baboons continue coming down the road—he drapes his trunk over one tusk.   This is not good, I think.

Isn't this a gorgeous scene?

He looks perturbed as he veers off the elephant trail slightly to pass in front of us.  Then he turns, flares his ears and trumpets loudly.   This is not a happy elephant.

Teenaged bull venting his displeasure.

 This video was made by Gail on her phone.

 And still more baboons come down the road and make that right turn. 

Our driver waits for a chance and pulls past the raging elephant.  All of us have our eyes on the elephant and see him start to come after us.    We put a lot of distance between him and us.

We pass zebras and eight giraffes, but two more young elephants confront us at different spots on our short drive out of the park.   What is with these elephants today?  Brian thinks they are juvenile males that have been pushed out of the female herd.   They have not yet learned any manners.   They usually join a small herd of older males that instruct them in the ways of the bush.

Just before the witching hour of 6:30, our driver checks us out of the park gate.   After that, according to park regulations, the only reason you’re in the park is to poach, and you're treated as such.

We drive past warthogs and impala on the road back to the lodge, and then I see movement in the grass near the road.   “I see something with spots over there.”

“It’s a hyena!” says Brian.   “I haven’t see one of those for years.”

I’d already turned off the camera, but it disappears too quickly for a photo anyway.   Or maybe my delay had other reasons—like elephants showing their ire.



  1. Leave it to you, Gully, to notice something your guide hasn't seen in years!!! You rock, girl!!!

    1. I gained quite the rep as a spotter of the unusual-- bugs, spiders, birds, etc.

    2. Were you able to see the video and hear it trumpeting?

  2. WOW JEANNIE, what fabulous photos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. This was NOT an April Fool was it? I swear .. sitting here in Anchorage we were beginning to feel VERY uneasy with all of the above elephant actions directed towards you all in the vehicle! An elephant gone beserk could really do damage to any vehicle and its occupants. Did you ever ask the guides if such an event had ever happened .. an elephant gone beserk and injuring people on a tour. Do I assume that the guides had high powered rifles along for the ride. LOVE the hippo photo with basically just his eyes and ears showing. I did not recall the Cape Buffalo as being the most dangerous of the animals. An amazing video taken with a telephone. What a series of posts. Joy from Cap and from Patti ..

    1. Gail didn't catch the whole tantrum. It turned right in front of the vehicle and trumpeted. None of us made a sound. It started to chase us when we drove away, its instinct triggered by us leaving.

  4. Coincidental that I posted it for April 1. I was uneasy about the elephants, too. That first one really got my attention and I realized how vulnerable I was. Then the tantrum thrown by the young one. Brian said they're testing themselves. But....two more elephants challenged us as we drove by on the way out of the park. No firearms on this drive. These animals are accustomed to the safari vehicles and usually ignore them, but there was something wrong that day. The cape buffalo is considered the most dangerous because it is so unpredictable.

  5. Well, we all have bad days ... guess this was one where some of the elephants got up on the wrong side of the mud puddle! The picture of the giraffe where you could not get his head into the picture was a hoot!!! I am feeling like I am in Africa! Thanks for bringing us along on the tour. Patti and Cap

  6. Way back in the ...70's, there was a heartbreaking article Nat Geo mag that showed the "culling" of herds of elephants. They would start by killing the matriarch and then just pick of the rest of the adults in the ensuing chaos. The babies were transplanted to another park. Years later, another article in the same magazine about unruly 20 year old bulls killing rhinos, crushing huts, attacking cars... it turns out, these were the transplanted babies, all grown up without the discipline of elders. They THEN had to transplant older bulls to regain order in the park... so sad, the advent of civilization and the downfall of the "natural" order