Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Sleeping with elephants
Last night around midnight, I was woken by a loud noise that took my sleep hazed mind a little while to figure out. There was an elephant pulling at vegetation right by my tent... or so it sounded. Night time has a way of amplifying sounds. I eased myself out of bed and in the pitch darkness carefully made my way across the wooden floor to the mesh window of my tent; and peered out. There was a lot of cloud cover and so it was difficult to distinguish anything but I tried really hard to focus my eyes on anything that moved. The sounds were incredibly close and then I saw a curved shape of bluish grey followed by another swing round towards me. The elephant was RIGHT by my tent, less than four feet away! I had grabbed my video camera as I had slid from bed... it's broke so I can't record images but it still picks up and records sounds. So I pressed the button and the camera whirred into action. I held my breath as the two curved shapes indicated that the huge head was turning more to face me, alerted by the sound no doubt. I doubt he could have seen me, elephants eyesight is not their strongest sense but I was sure he could hear my breathing and smell my prescence, just the other side of the flimsy canvas. Eating was obviously his priority as the curved shapes swung away and I could hear some plant get ripped from its roots or branch and then the sound of it being pushed into the elephant's mouth and chewed. Were there two elephants? I thought I heard another's breathing and there was a soft low rumble. I strained my eyes but could not see anything other than the dark blue grey colours of the vegetation and the hulk of the elephant before me merging into it. He, or they, stayed for about 10 -15 minutes chomping and pulling on the grasses and bushes by my tent steps. In the morning, I thought, I'll go check out the footprints. Back to bed I went and was woken a few hours later by a huge crash. My first thought as I registered that something had fallen down in my tent, was that the elephant was trying to get in! I held my breath, lying in bed, waiting to hear further destruction noises of canvas being ripped or wooden struts being snapped like twigs. There was nothing but the sound of a rhythmic slow deep breathing, he was asleep... probably on the anthill between my tent and the next; a favoured sleeping spot for a few bull elephants. I tentatively got up and switched on a light and found that one of the framed photographs on an internal divider had fallen down, nothing suspicious; no ripped gaping hole or inwardly leaning structure posts. Phew! I listened to the sound of the elephant breathing as he slept, I'm surprised the crash sound hadn't got him up and curious as to what was going on, come over to investigate. Soon it would be dawn so I stayed awake and watched it rise over the horizon and trees across the lagoon. When it was fully light I could see where the elephant(s) had been. My tent stands on a stilted platform with steps leading up to the door at the side and a deck at the front. If I had been stood at the top of the steps when the elephant had been there last night I could have touched him without having to reach out! And the big fella hadn't left either... I could hear him now flapping his ears, rumbling softly now and again as he had his morning snack of dropped marula fruits from the tree by the tent next to mine; I could just see him, larger than life, through the bushes between. He was BIG. Maybe not as big as they get but from the ground perspective he was big enough! I had estimated that his tusks had been about 6-7 feet high off the ground judging from where I saw them last night in relation to my tent. I hoped he'd walk past my tent, but after feeding for a bit he moved in the other direction, so I couldn't get a photo of him. Speaking to one of the camp managers, on my way to breakfast, there were two elephants wandering around last night, sleeping in several places, visiting others in the camp like the researchers and the camp managers tents. I am SO going to miss all this. I am leaving in a day or two's time. Today or tomorrow could be my last full day at camp, before a seat is found for me on one of the staff flights and I fly away, starting my journey back home.