The title may suggest that you are about to read some profound African proverb; elegantly written to inspire you, change your perspective and/or leave you astounded with its insight & prophetic wisdom. I just want to clarify right up front that this is all highly unlikely, but I do still hope that there is something warming about the story and, even if only marginally so, leaves you yearning for the African bush. Now, for that tall tale…
I’ve always wondered how some people claim that their favourite animals are elephants. Don’t get me wrong, I love elephants, I really do. Being able to see them in the wild & watch the way they interact with each other is very special. But, unfortunately, they are simply not animals which excite me. I don’t wake up in the morning, eagerly anticipating my next elephant sighting. I do, however, wake up positively giddy in hope of seeing a leopard or even a lion while on safari. This was all until I had one magical moment with a special elephant at Silvan Safari.
In late February this year, long before Covid changed the way we lived and operated, I was fortunate enough to spend five sensational nights at Silvan Safari (recently awarded the World’s Leading Luxury Lodge award for 2020). It was jam packed with some of the most incredible wildlife sightings I have ever seen – with plenty of leopards of course – as is typical for a safari in the Sabi Sand Private Reserve. While there are both morning and afternoon game drives to enjoy, for me, the afternoon game drive is by far my favourite. You leave after high tea at the lodge – and I have a massive sweet tooth, so this never disappoints – and head out into the glorious African sunshine as the bite of the midday heat is just starting to settle.
On this fateful drive, we left the lodge and headed east. We had spent some amazing hours getting acquainted with Tiyani (Silvan’s beloved resident leopard) the previous afternoon and I was hoping she would give us another display of her elegance, charm and grace. This afternoon’s drive was to turn out rather differently.
We ambled into a beautifully green and shaded area quite close to the lodge where enormous leadwood, jackalberry and marula trees are dotted in abundance – a real African forest. At this time of the year, the marula trees have finished producing their annual fruit which, having ripened, have started falling to the forest floor. Every marula tree in the Sabi Sand is considered an open buffet at this time of year. This particular afternoon an old bull elephant was taking sole control of the buffet and he was in his element.
Our guide, Kyle, said the elephant was very relaxed and he was going to pull into the clearing under the tree. He asked that we all keep very quiet and just enjoy the sighting. We edged in slowly and Kyle stopped the vehicle to the right of the elephant and switched off the engine.
I am not someone who is nervous about being close to wild animals. I have a deep-seated respect for the animals, their behaviour, as well as their temperament. You can tell when an animal is relaxed or agitated and can act accordingly. That said, I have never in my life been this close to an elephant. Having eaten all the marula fruit within “trunk” distance away, the elephant started to slowly edge closer towards the vehicle. Every couple of minutes he would clear his area of marula fruit and would continue to amble ever closer. I was very keen to take my camera out and get a photo, this was National Geographic worthy stuff! But I knew any sudden movement, no matter how small, would disturb him and I definitely didn’t want that. So, fighting the urge that modern technology has trained us to perform, I opted to pass on getting the perfect shot.
Instead of being distracted by camera equipment and only viewing him through the camera screen, I just sat. I watched his wrinkly, dextrous trunk pick up each individual fruit with ease and plop them one by one into his mouth. I watched his extraordinary long eyelashes pick up the gentle sunlight which flickered through the trees. I watched as every slight footstep was carefully taken so as to not step on any fruit. I watched as he looked at us with a calm, gentle gaze – at complete peace with us. I watched as he came every closer – at one point he was within arms length away from where I sat on the game drive vehicle, I could have reached out and touched him. I watched, in awe, as this powerful and gentle creature was slowly converting me.
It was one of the most extraordinary encounters of my life and the decision not to take the camera out was actually the reason it was so significant. My heart was beating through my chest, I’m sure the elephant could easily hear it. But I would never have fully appreciated the sighting had I not been fully “present” in that moment, fully focussed on where I was, and being so close to this incredible animal. This is what makes Africa so unique and so special – these kind of interactions reminds us what we are missing in our high paced, technology driven world.
So while this blog is not an African proverb, there is something meaningful in the message. Sometimes it’s not important to get that perfect shot, sometimes choosing to be fully present in the moment makes the experience even more special. The magic of the African bush is felt in the whispers of the trees, the glowing golden sunsets and sometimes, yes sometimes, even in an old elephant bull eating his marula fruit on a hot summer’s day.