I find wild elephants fascinating to watch because of the communication they have between each other. If you are quiet and respectful, there are various “conversations” you get the privilege of observing. The most wonderful exchange I ever witnessed, one that I find soothing to my soul, was the time I watched a mother and her calf just six feet away from my door.
It was our second night in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and I was awakened by what I thought must be a raging rain storm. It sounded like gushing water on our hay-like roof. uh-oh. I sat up under the mosquito net, puzzling this out, remembering I was in Africa somewhere, oh yeah, Zambia, but it’s the dry season, it can’t be rain. Within minutes we found the answer: outside our hut was a massive 12 foot elephant ravaging a tree.
It was past midnight and no other human was stirring. We could hear our friend snoring in the hut next door. The elephant’s solid body was a few feet from the balcony’s flimsy support beam (i.e. an old tree part). She could have demolished it just by turning in a different direction. Years earlier I had seen elephants invading our camp and they obliterated tall, strong trees in a single step as they innocently made their way to the river. The magnificence of this animal is breathtaking.
And I must admit, that night in Zambia I was indeed breathless. My partner and I looked at each other, wide-eyed but silent, wondering what to do. Cell phone reception, out of the question. The camp was nearly empty and everyone was asleep. And it was too dark for decent photos, yet a flash would scare her away. I remember looking above my head to see what could fall on me. It was the second floor. I wasn’t afraid though. Perhaps it was the mellow lunar essence that had washed over us, or maybe it was her hypnotic, steady breathing. Whispering, we made a decision to only snap one photo from a distance and not go outside, with hopes of her languishing here as long as possible.
And that was when the magic began because next we heard her faintly purr and rumble. It’s a sound exclusive to elephants and one that rests in a sweet place in my mind–the soft and gentle purring of a mega-ton mammal.
Then, from between our hut and our friends’ hut, a baby elephant came trotting onto the scene. What we had heard, we realized, was Mother Elephant calling her precocious offspring, this 250 pound baby. The calf nudged up to its mother and nursed, while the mother continued to chomp leaves and snap branches. They stayed there for another thrilling 15 or 20 minutes as we watched from our hut, mesmerized and delighted. Baby elephants are adorable creatures to watch. They don’t have muscle control yet in their trunk, so it flops around while they try to figure it out. They’re curious and playful, but clumsy. After Mother Elephant had annihilated most of the tree, they made their exit.
The next day in the morning light we examined the pitiful remainder of the tree, marveled at the giant foot prints, told our friends about the scene, and proudly presented our one photograph of evidence. After breakfast we saw the mother-calf pair again, the magical elephants who came to visit.