What it means to experience elephants in the wild

DSC_0967In my estimation there is no experience on Earth like meeting an elephant in the wild. I don’t mean coming face-to-face with an elephant while on foot (heaven forbid!!), but encountering one from the safe distance of a vehicle. Then again, the safety offered by a vehicle with an elephant in the vicinity is illusory, for while elephants are on the whole placid animals, they can be playfully destructive and even ferociously aggressive when on the rampage! I learnt this many years ago when holidaying as a little girl with my parents in the Wankie Game Reserve in then-Rhodesia.

Like many other days of that memorable holiday, we were on a typical game-viewing drive when a herd of elephants crossed the dust road in front of us. My father waited until all the elephants had made their crossing, and then quietly pulled off. We had only gone a short distance when we suddenly heard the ear-splitting trumpeting of a thoroughly irate bull elephant that had come out from the bush behind us. As the elephant gathered pace my father accelerated, and I will never forget the terrifying spectacle of that giant pachyderm in the rear window, its trunk waving and its ears flapping in outraged anger as it tried to run us down. Fortunately that frightening experience has done little to dampen my enthusiasm for elephants, and while I am greatly respectful of their right of way, I am also incredibly awed by their sheer size and spectacle.

DSC_0977For me to see an elephant in the wild is to glimpse a primeval world. They are the embodiment of an ancient African continent I feel in my soul. The aeons of their existence are measured in the wrinkles of their leathery grey skin, the maps of their great ears and the patience in their eyes. I have a sense that they are amazingly sentient beings with a wisdom and intelligence beyond what I can imagine, and perhaps beyond my own.

Elephants can move through the bushveld without so much as a snap of a twig, and they are often so well camouflaged that despite their great size, they are invisible. Yet their benign presence allows them to own the African savanna in a way that few animals do. What a thrill and a privilege then to experience elephants in the wild!

Why it is so important to get into Nature

DSC_0905I recently had the wonderful opportunity of going to the Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and although I live very close to nature in the Western Cape, this was a chance of getting into a different kind of nature as the shrubland of the Addo is very different to the fynbos-swathed mountain meadows of the Cape where I live and work.

Addo is a nature reserve where it is possible to get up close and personal with most of the Big Five, and in a way it felt as though I had come home as the hot plains of Africa are in my blood, and I have a tremendous affinity with the wild creatures of the African bushveld. In acknowledgement of the part nature has played in the evolution of our species, I wrote this in my book Miracles of Hope: Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century”

DSC_0947“Apart from the obvious physical aspects of our evolutionary path, there are other deeper and more profound human characteristics that have developed in response to wild places and the companionship of other species, great and small. Our collective human psyche is intimately connected to all forms of nature, for it is within the context of the natural world of the hunter-gatherer way of life that it evolved…

“Since time immemorial, the natural world has been our species’ shaper and teacher. Our ancestors learned about the concept of time from observing the passage of the Moon through the night sky. They learnt to understand the effects of the passing seasons on migrations of game. By observing nature with an innate shrewdness, the ancients also learnt the laws of leverage and gravity, and based the principles of their early traps on these laws…

DSC_0971“Also unique in the evolutionary history of the Earth’s creatures was the development of conceptual thought and symbolic language capabilities that allowed for reflective discussion, the sharing of detailed information, social interaction and co-operative effort, elements that led to the development of culture, our defining human characteristic…

“Over the ages the natural world has literally shaped our bodies, minds and souls. Warming sunlight, the smell of bushveld, a profusion of spring of flowers, and the sigh of the ocean as it leaves the shore: these are the healing agencies of nature that soothe our modern city senses…

DSC_1016“We are as inextricably linked to the wind whispering in treetops and the deep rumble of distant thunder as a leopard prowling a rocky mountain ledge or an elephant grazing on the African savanna. Sensed but unseen, felt but not comprehended, elements of the natural world exert an enormous influence over our everyday lives.” No wonder, then, that by going to Addo and by getting back to nature, I felt as though I had come home.