Gentle Ghostly Giants

Tracking the mighty beasts, or otherwise known as, “the gentle giants” of the African bush can be a difficult task. Especially when they seem to be on a serious mission. Often it seems, as we move from one road to the next spotting fresh tracks, that we have just missed them. The question always goes through my mind: Will we find them?

With expectant guests that have traveled far and wide to be surrounded by the magnificent wilderness of South Africa, almost always want to see elephants. My tracker, Mike and I, know we can never give up. Seeing the African Elephant and its seemingly magical movement is a must when visiting Africa and it is up to us show our guests.

It was another beautiful day in South Africa. We had left River lodge for the morning safari. There was still a slight chill in the air as the sun began to show its first rays of the day. We stopped for a morning coffee to warm us up and to think about our next move. We had been following elephants tracks we picked up as we left camp, but nothing had revealed itself as yet. The gentle giants have the amazing ability, as large as they are, to blend into and move silently through the bush, causing much frustration when you can’t find them. After our coffee break, we felt refreshed and ready to search again.

We decided to go to a dam close by. As we haven’t had much rain, the bushveld is extremely dry. The elephants seemed to have moved in the direction of one of the few dams which still holds some water. We stopped at the dam…..but nothing. Have we missed them again? We drove around the water and saw no tracks. Perhaps we beat them to the water? Perhaps we got in front of them? All these questions streaming through my mind.

Feeling defeated, we started discussing some of the tree and bird species that call this waterhole home. A South African safari is not only about the Big Five, but all different types of flora and fauna that make us the ecosystem. We were lucky enough to see an array of birds coming down for a drink. While taking in and enjoying the sounds around us, my tracker, Mike heard something. It was a crack of sorts. These ‘cracks’ became louder and louder. Could this be the ‘ghosts’ we had been searching for all morning? We watched and waited …. very patiently…. when finally, a single elephant popped out of the dense thickets. Where there is one, others are sure to follow, and they did. What a spectacular scene unfolded before our eyes. One after the other, big, small, male, female the herd of elephants came down to the water.

If anyone has spent time with these wonderful beasts, they will know that to see them swim is a magical and surreal experience. That is just what they did. The herd enjoyed the cool water, splashing and playing with not a care in the world.  It is amazing how graceful the African Elephant can be. Even more than that, you can feel the fun and joy they are experiencing and you cannot help but smile and feel the rest of the world fade away.

Interesting facts about Elephants and water:

  • Elephants have enough buoyancy to stay afloat and they use their powerful legs to paddle
  • They swim completely submerged, with their head above the water and their mouths below,
  • Their trunks or proboscis is used as a snorkel. They can cross deep water and are able to breathe normally even when submerged

From a slow start to a morning drive, the unexpected sighting of the ghostly gentle giants made the morning so special for our guests. They could tick Elephants off their bucket list.

It was truly a memorable experience. One where you could feel a part of something and forget about everything else happening around you.

Story and photos by Ranger Michael Lester – River Lodge

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