Botswana is home to more than 120,000 elephants. It’s the largest population of elephants in the world, with the vast majority of them in Chobe National Park. Seeing these incredible creatures in the wild was truly magical and this is my recap of an unforgettable day in Chobe.
It is early morning and I’m sitting in a roof seat above the truck’s cabin – a great spot with 360-degree views. Immediately, I begin to see herds of zebra and wildebeest, and giraffe reaching into the treetops to feed. At first, the elephants are elusive, but we see hippos, crocodiles, warthogs and baboons. We even spot a pack of African wild dogs, which is a rare sight, as they are one of Africa’s most endangered animals. It’s not until the afternoon that we find a herd of elephants at river’s edge, gradually making their way out into the water to bathe and splash.
The elephant is the world’s largest land mammal, weighing up to seven tonnes, and the second tallest animal, after the giraffe. An adult eats up to 300 kilograms of food a day, including grass and bark from trees, and drinks up to 200 litres in a single session. They have long lives of up to 70 years.
It’s fascinating watching the herd, especially the calves at play. They fall over, roll in the mud, get under their mother’s legs and imitate the adults. Two mud-covered elephants stand so still they look like clay sculptures, while a calf uses its trunk to cover itself with dust. It’s a technique for getting rid of insects.
The elephant’s trunk is comparable to a human’s hands in usefulness. With more than 40,000 muscles, the trunk is strong and agile, so the elephant can pull down trees or pick up a small flower. The trunk is used to feed, or to squirt water behind the ears, effectively cooling the elephant’s body. It can even be used to detect water underground.
We stay with the elephants for two hours before our driver starts the engine, preparing to leave. But we only drive a short distance before we have to stop. The herd has chosen this moment to come ashore – and we are right in their path.
Elephants are either side of the truck, while inside there’s a buzz of excited whisperings. Most of the herd swings wide of us, but one bull elephant passes within five metres. He stops, and turns to stare at the vehicle. Silence falls within the truck. It’s as if no one dares to breathe. Looking through my camera, the elephant’s head fills the frame and I can even see his eyelashes. I take the shot.
The shutter is very loud. There are a few anxious glares from my travel companions. Then the moment passes. The elephant begins to move again, his heavy bulk swinging lazily, following the rest of the herd.
Have you had an incredible wildlife experience? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. If you’d like to read about another of my Botswana experiences – the Jewel of the Kalahari – click here.
Excerpts from this entry were first published, as a longer article about Botswana, in Adore magazine. The magazine is no longer available but there is a blog – see Adore Animals.