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Elephants in Ulusaba


Papa elephant trumpets a blare into the warm fall afternoon air and thirty some elephants turn and stampede across the river to the opposite bank, forming defensive pods with the babies in the middle.  There is trouble around!  But from where?



Let’s back up about twenty minutes and see how all this comes about.  We are looking for elephants in the thousands of acres that make up Ulusaba private game reserve in South Africa.  The six of us along with our driver/guide and tracker left the lodge at daybreak and have spotted a good number of different animals so far this morning, but now we are looking for elephants.  Sometimes we are on the dirt roads of the preserve, but much of the time is driving through the brush in our Land Rover – bouncing over rocks, pushing down small trees and winding our way through the bush.  Directing the way is our tracker, Orange, who was born and raised in the area and is able to spot and follow animal tracks that we are barely able to see, let alone identify and tell which direction they might be headed.


As we round the bend and come over the rise at the edge of the river, we see a nice herd of elephants coming down the opposite bank into and crossing the river.  It’s a beautiful day for both us and the elephants.  The sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky, and a nice breeze is blowing.  It is the most peaceful of days here in the middle of God’s country. 

The adult elephants are drinking from the river and using their trunks to throw dirt on their backs to protect them from the sun.  The babies are playing and splashing.  One young lad is trying desperately to climb a steep bank but keeps sliding back down.  Another is simply rolling in the sandy mud by the water’s edge.  By now half the elephants have crossed the river and are immediately in front of our truck, having no fear of us at all.  I guess they know if they wanted to (or needed to) they could move our truck out of the way with very little effort.  The other half of the elephants are still in the river drinking, wading around and playing.


 It’s in the middle of this very serene scene that it happens.  Trumpet – LOUD and long – every elephant instantly reacts and turns toward the opposite bank and thirty some elephants, a hundred and twenty some very large elephants’ feet stampede faster than you ever thought an elephant could move up onto the sands of the riverbank, quickly forming family circles with all the adults pointing outward and the kids in the middle.


What brought on this sudden sense of danger? We’ll never know… but we certainly got a firsthand view of how this elephant herd handles it.



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