My first and important lesson in Africa


Looking out at the spectacular African sunset, I saw that twilight had chosen to wash the sky with deep hues of orange, as it kissed the day goodbye. I watched the faint outline of the setting sun melting into the horizon. Against this backdrop, the branches of a lone Acacia tree cloaked in a dark inky blanket weaved a black intricate webbed pattern against the sky. I sat mesmerized in the silence, which was broken by the occasional whoop of the hyenas.

Under the tree, was a small herd of elephants, their shadowed black bodies moving rhythmically in a slow stately walk. The largest of them was a little behind, overseeing the parents, who had their little calf nestled between them. I marvelled at the combination of immense strength and yet gentle protectiveness that existed in them.

We were at Sabel Lodge at the Greater Mabula Reserve, South Africa
​ where we went through an unsettling experience of one of the tuskers charg​ing​ at us! Now looking at the elephants I smiled, partly at the protective maternal instincts that exist in the universal consciousness, be it man or animal and partly with relief at being in the safety of my jeep.

Earlier in the day we had opted to undertake our safari in a tractor. After a morning of sighting we stopped on a hilltop, where we refreshed ourselves with cold beer and a traditional African meal. Fed and watered
​,​ we snoozed under the warmth of the African sun. Soon it was time to continue our safari into the elephant territory.

As our tractor slowly made its way down the hill, a beaten track opened before us flanked either side by bush forest. Entering it, I noticed an elephant standing to the right side of the track some meters away from us looking agitated and suddenly I heard loud trumpeting and watched in horror as the Tusker flapped its ears behind and stamped its foot. In the next few seconds he charged at us. Amidst our screaming was the sound of a very loud deafening horn. To my amazement the elephant stopped in his tracks. The driver of the tractor had pressed the horn out of sheer instinct frightening the elephant. One more honk made the elephant recoil and turn back.

After making a speedy retreat we were informed by the authorities at the lodge that the agitated elephant could not find her calf and had acted in desperation and frustration! To everyone‘s relief the lodge officials soon united them!

The experience has left a deeper understanding of animal behaviour in my mind. My initial reaction to the attempted attack had been tempered with fear and perhaps some amount of hostility. However once I understood the reason behind the animal’s behaviour I felt a surge of empathy and compassion. I reminded myself I was in their territory. Animals attack only when they feel threatened, in fear and in anxiety. After all when a stranger enters our space are we not wary, sometimes fearful and perhaps protective of our kin?

P.Rajaratnam

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