For weeks the area was sucked dry with drought. The dams around Molori Safari Lodge, where I was a guest, were drying up leaving muddy holes around the edges and in the middle where fresh water used to be plentiful and deep; the bottom loomed with dark promise.
It wasn’t a state of emergency but it was awfully close. The water being pumped into the watering hole in front of the lodge was one of the few places wildlife could count on to get a drink, and throughout the day you’d see them take turns getting their fill.
Then it happened: The rain. It had been threatening all morning, but that wasn’t unusual. When it hit, it didn’t come with a whisper it screamed bloody murder. The wind was so strong it sent sheets of rain into our jeep. I scrambled to cover my camera equipment before it was ruined. We’d been waiting by one of the dams hoping to see some elephants, but the rain-soaked us to the bone and we decided to head to Molori to wait it out.
Halfway up a small mountain where Molori sat, we perched on the main deck overlooking the bush. To our delight, from where we stood we could see herds of elephants heading towards the watering hole from various directions. It seemed as if the rain had inspired a pachyderm pool party and all of them were invited.
Elephants squeezed around the watering hole, each vying for a place near a smaller hole where the fresh water flowed from the pump house close by. A a giant octopus of writhing appendages, countless trunks dipped in and out as they drank.
Babies, under a year old, with trunks the length of a man’s arm, knelt at the edge, their cute little butts up in the air desperately trying to reach what their larger companions drank easily.
Nearby, elephants enjoying the festivities rolled in the red Madikwe earth, sometimes on top of each other like puppies in a dog park. Others dusted themselves by loosening the earth with their toenails and then with their trunks, throwing it on their flanks while shooting huge puffs of rust-colored dust into the air. As the soil dried, the elephants became marbled pieces of art with shades of red, rust, purple and orange covering their bodies.
Young males sparred with each other their trunks intertwined like enormous noodles. Elephants from different herds were occasionally more aggressive towards each other. One would chase the other, establishing dominance, only to be dominated by a larger elephant inserting itself into the action.
In the end, we counted over 60 elephants frolicking in the rain.