I had been to Hluhluwe / Imfolozi a couple times already but up to the 13th of May this year I had never had the privilege of seeing a wild elephant. Not even on a 3 day hike through the Wilderness area in October 2013! I was back in May for literally an overnight visit and knowing I was only there for a very short time really meant the pressure was on to try and find them and true to form and my luck it was as if every elephant in the place had gone into hiding!!
Absolutely not one to be seen the evening I arrived and none the next morning in Imfolozi. Yip the big beasts were determined I wasn't going to spot them. The decision was taken to drive through Hluhluwe in the hopes of seeing elephant there. Of course by this stage I had pretty much given up and was simply watching the scenery as we drove.
However the Universe was smiling on me (for a change).... as we rounded the corner we started to spot the odd elephant. One here. Then another couple. Until eventually we came across a whole herd by a watering hole. Although I didn't get good photos due to the weather just watching them was actually reward enough. The Matriarch herding them down to the watering hole, calling in those who hadn't been to have yet. The babies froliking between the feet of the adults. All taking turns to drink before moving out the way for the next batch... until it was decided by (and I'm assuming here) the Matriarch that enough was had and it was time to move on.
We pulled ahead as not to get trapped behind the herd as it was obvious they would be crossing the road just ahead of us... for me having seen them like that was pure magic and nothing could beat it..
But more was in store that certainly would beat it...
Not 10 minutes further down the road we came across the magnificent bull above. Casually standing in the road plucking green leaves from the trees. Although I had just seen the herd behind us I wasn't prepared for the sheer size of him. You may live in Africa but you take for granted the size of these animals. We stopped a respectable distance and I got out my camera and was snapping shots (nice long 400mm lens). Not to long after that a few vehicles had stopped behind us and a few behind the elephant. Us reversing as he advanced and the other vehicles keeping pace with him.
Stupidly a few even sped past him. Although he didn't get aggressive he did flap his ears and it is easy to see why a relatively safe situation can turn into a seriously dangerous one very easily. We turned our car around at this point as we knew there was a herd crossing somewhere behind us and it was felt it was no longer safe to be reversing as things could become unpredictable and an escape route could be needed. By this stage I'm starting to think I've seen enough elephant and I would prefer to be somewhere safer, although needless to say I'm still half hanging out the window in the rain getting some shots.
We were looking for a place that we would be able to pull off so that the elephant could pass if he caught up to us but were hoping that it would be before we became trapped between him and the herd behind us. Of course having a person who suffers from anxiety in the car doesn't help... I'm now starting to worry... although I held it together it was probably pretty obvious on my face. I'm not a bush person, I've never been exposed to wildlife that close, I have no benchmark to measure it against and I really don't care how experienced the person I'm with is... I just want out of there.... YESTERDAY! (What I didn't realise at the time is while I thought he was 'far' away as I was shooting with my 400mm lens in actual fact my focal distance was only ever between 150 & 300mm - so he was far closer then I realised).
Mr Elephant at that point decided to step off the road into the bush to feed and the idiot right behind him thought now was the time to accelerate past him. All I saw was the blur of the vehicle as it took off past the elephant and us and in all my life I have never seen such a massive creature spin around so fast in such a confined space... I think the trunk possibly missed that car by mere millimeters. Had I not actually seen it I would never have believed it possible! Luckily we were in the process of turning off into a side road and moving up further out of sight.. you could probably hear my heart beating all the way back in Durban by this stage.
Although I had no reason to panic it is still a frightening situation to be in as you simply do not know what the elephant is going to do. Here we are, pulled off onto a side road waiting for him to pass but not sure if he is going to turn up!!! Very luckily for us although he kind of paused at the end of the road he decided to rather continue on his way and join the herd that were just slightly ahead of him and crossing over the road.
What an amazing, beautiful, crazy experience. Do I want to repeat it - no thanks. I've now seen elephants (and of course on a subsequent visit to the park in August they were standing at the gate on arrival - isn't that so typical!) - they are beautiful majestic animals. But distance is the best option. Yes they make me nervous. They faster than you think. Beautifully massive. Destructive when provoked. While I am happy to see them I doubt I would put myself in harms way by following them unnecessarily! Think I would rather track some smaller animals....