Whatever you do, don’t run! I could clearly hear the voice of the game ranger telling me not to run when being in the presence of one of the Big 5, because they could outrun me anyway. Well, here I was all alone and on foot, face to face with a massive bull elephant weighing around 5000 kilograms. Just fifteen minutes earlier I had wandered around the shower block next to our camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, to see if there was any wildlife in the clearing behind our camp. Everybody else from my group was out with the mokoros, the dug-out canoes, searching for wild animals and I as a tour leader was left behind. In the large clearing I spotted a family of warthogs looking for their breakfast by searching for roots and insects on their elbows. An African fish-eagle screamed in the distance. Its call went unanswered. I was standing on a small mount at the edge of the clearing, leaning against a palm tree when a gush of wind carried my scent towards the foraging warthogs. Without hesitation the warthogs ran off, with their tails raised straight into the air. As I was about to leave to, I noticed a bull elephant standing less than fifty meters away to my right, behind a small clump of trees. Had it been standing there the entire time I was watching the warthogs? The massive elephant walked around the trees and started feeding on the fallen fruit. After the giant had eaten all the fruit, it slowly made its way towards some shrubs some thirty meters to my left. The elephant seemed relaxed and didn’t show any signs of agitation or aggression. While I was truly impressed by the size and closeness of the largest land mammal in the world, the elephant kept feeding on the fresh leaves of the shrubs. But then without warning the elephant turned and faced me. It flapped its ears and before I truly realized what was happening the elephant ran towards me. Luckily for me the charge stopped after only fifteen meters. The elephant returned to the shrubs and resumed feeding. That was a close call! At this point I should have returned to the safety of our camp, but I figured that the elephant was calm now and that I could stay and watch this impressive animal a little while longer. After a couple of minutes the elephant had had enough and slowly made its way back to the palm trees where I had first spotted it. Halfway there, the elephant suddenly stopped and turned to face me once again. This couldn’t be good. When the elephant flapped its giant ears I knew that another charge was coming. Hopefully it was another mock charge. Whatever you do, don’t run! I heard the game ranger repeating his warning. I knew that the only thing I could do was stand my ground and jump out of the way at the last possible second. As the bull elephant came towards me at full speed I braced myself. The elephant closed the distance between us in no time. But as I was about to jump to the side, the big bull stopped dead in its tracks. It was standing less than two meters away from me and because I was still on the mount we were eye to eye. My heart was beating in my throat. It seemed likes minutes but was probably seconds before the elephant started to back away slowly. When that impressive animal was some eight meters away, I started to back up as well and slowly made it back to camp. This close encounter of the African kind had definitely been too close for comfort. This was something that I hoped I would never have to experience again.
E van de Ven