The air around the jeep was filled with a light saffron fog, kicked up by the small herd of elephants to the right of our vehicle. Massive bodies milled about dusting themselves with the soil to protect their delicate skin from biting insects and the sun’s harsh rays.
It was a wonderful morning in Amboseli and I was taking so many pictures my camera sounded like a machine gun.
I chose to shoot low, at baby elephant-eye level for most of the sighting. I loved the way the larger elephants framed the smaller ones as they peeked between trunks and under bellies.
It was nothing more than a small stop on their way to the marshes for water and a bit of breakfast, but for me it was an invaluable glimpse into the world of herd dynamics. I watched as juveniles played under the watchful eye of the surrounding adults.
I saw how they communicated with a shake of the ears, a raise of a trunk or a tilt of a head, subtle gestures that spoke volumes to the ones receiving the message. Tiny two month-old babies trotted next as the others walked, trying to keep up with the large, languid steps of their mothers’ long legs.
One little guy was casually grazing next to another elephant and then stopped to lean in for a hug, resting the side of his forehead against its leg. I don’t think it was his mother, perhaps an older sibling from the size of the tusks. The larger pachyderm stopped and leaned into the smaller in response and there they stood for a few seconds, motionless, before eating once again. It was unmistakable, the two had taken a momentary time-out for a little love fest. The cuteness quotient was a 15 on a scale of 1-10.
After 30 minutes or so, my travel mates wanted to head back to the hotel for breakfast but I couldn’t pull myself away. Naomi, who shared the jeep with me, jumped into our second vehicle so that I could stay and watch while the rest of the group went on their way.
Alone with my guide/driver Sammy, my perseverance was rewarded as we watched a giant bull suddenly became annoyed with a smaller male and chase him through the bushes. His ears flew back while his trunk protectively rolled up under his mouth. The skin and fat on his powerful body rolled back as he lunged forward so quickly it belied his gargantuan proportions. It was an obvious show of “guess who’s the boss” and he followed his adversary quite a distance before deciding he’d made his point.
It was an hour out of my life but I’ll never forget it. I wanted to return to that spot every morning in hopes of recapturing that wonderful scene again but there were so many other places to explore and little time in comparison to all the possibilities.
It’s what I love about being in the bush in Africa.. so many surprises, so much to see, it’s all extraordinary.