A Morning with Elephants

Wildlife Spotlight | 18th June 2019

This is the second in a series of posts from Ranger Sean Jones, sharing his experiences at Shambala Private Game Reserve.

It was a chilly morning as we set out on safari. I could feel the morning air blowing against my face, the taste of a morning coffee and a warm croissant still in my mouth, as another adventure in the bush began. With the leaves falling from the trees beside us, we made our way up the hillside to the northern parts of the reserve. Along the way we saw plenty of Blue Wildebeest grazing in the field, and it wasn’t odd to see some Zebra standing amongst them, quite a benefit to have safety in numbers. As we passed by I noticed fresh Elephant dung on the road in front of us. I could see their tracks and quickly determined the direction they were walking as we started following the tracks.

There was a sense of excitement on the vehicle now as we gained ground in finding the largest land mammal on Earth. Sali, one of my guests, pointed out trees that she could see were broken – not by lightning, but by the large herbivores that would use their brute strength for a sumptuous meal. Elephants will often push over trees, seeking out the roots of the tree for added nutrition. We continued slowly forward, not sure of what we would find around the next corner. The fresh smell of the morning air had now slowly dissipated and was replaced by the distinctive odour of elephants.

We moved anxiously forward in anticipation of what might happen next. Suddenly there was a crackling in the trees, simultaneously we turned our heads in the direction of where the sound came from. Yet we saw nothing. It can be astonishing to witness how such a large animal could be so elusive for so long. We were all excited by the sound, and knew it had to be the elephants. There was definitely activity all around us.

As I turned my head back, I was quite stunned to find a large female elephant walking on the road towards us. “There’s one!” I softly exclaimed. All the heads turned back to the front, and jaws dropped in disbelief. The silence was profound as there was an interest to see what my response would be to the elephant coming down the road.

The elephant strolled down the road ever so quietly and gracefully, as if it was on a Sunday stroll through the park. We were enjoying the sighting, and were all quite calm as the elephant was still some distance away, and not agitated in any way. Flapping her massive ears to keep cool and regulate body temperature, almost posing for the pictures as she walked. I looked around and noticed that more elephants started appearing from the thickets around us. There were two coming out to the left of us, and another three to the right. Gripping the branches with their inquisitive trunks, they were rather enjoying themselves making the most of every leaf.

I took note of the elephant cow getting closer to us and as I started the vehicle to slowly back away, I saw the gigantic bull elephant emerging from the trees behind her. It’s quite noticeable to observe the difference between a male and female elephant, besides the sheer size of the bulls, one can see the shape of the forehead to be quite unique. The females have a 90 degree angle that forms at the top of the forehead going down to the trunk, whereas the males have a much rounder forehead not forming much of an angle. In a herd of elephants there is a female that is the dominant character, known as the matriarch.

We quite enjoyed observing these grey goliaths, and their interesting feeding habits. After giving them their space again, they continued their breakfast and started rumbling to each other, communicating through their complex social structure. We stayed a few moments longer and then calmly returned to the lodge after a morning with elephants.

Ranger Sean Jones
Shambala Private Game Reserve


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