She stopped what she was doing. Raising her trunk like a flexible periscope she searched for the scent she had a glimmer of while browsing. She found it, trunk aimed in my direction as I got closer.
Recognising my familiar scent, and the sound of the vehicle, she dropped her trunk and ambled slowly and regally towards the LandRover. The trunk eased towards me, the tip grazing over my cheek, her rumbling voice making my chest vibrate in resonance. I spoke gently, wishing her a good morning, resting my head against the massive trunk. We stayed like that for a long while, each communicating in the only way we knew, but even though the languages were different, we understood each other.
She blew out a large breath, the trunk testing the air in the vehicle, trying to discover whether I had brought her a treat. I had of course, this was our ritual when meeting, breakfast in the bush. I poured myself a mug of coffee, my lady friend watching intently. The mug was carefully placed on the dashboard and I opened my little cooler box. A rumble of appreciation and pleasure emanated from the massive animal standing next to me. I grabbed an apple and held it out to her. Delicately, infinitely gently, she took it from me and with a sigh of sincere gratitude, munched happily while I had a sandwich. Once the first offering had been made and accepted, she knew that she was at liberty to help herself, working her way through the fruit, enjoying herself immensely. When we had finished, she again ran the tip of her trunk over my face by way of thanks, tossed her head from side to side, flapped her ears and turned away, ambling back to the bush, rumbling happily as she told her herd-mates that breakfast with me was a good way to start the day.
Elephants are people too.
We have been long-time friends, that elephant and me. To have the total trust and friendship of a wild animal is something so emotional that it can’t be put into mere words. The circumstances of our first meeting were very traumatic for this animal – the full account occupies a couple of chapters in my new book, so I won’t be giving it all away here!
But as often happens in both the human world and the animal one, one species helping another will form a bond that will never break.
It happened here.
They say an elephant never forgets. How true that is. Eight years after I had left the lodge due to circumstances I won’t go into here, I made a visit to the area to see friends and relax in the bush for a while. Out in the bush, surrounded by Africa, is an experience that every person on the planet should experience at least once in their lives. It’s a primal, wonderful, heart-stoppingly beautiful place, a place that invites you to just ‘sit a spell’.
And that is what we were doing, sitting in the Landy, just soaking it all in, a small herd of impala and a few zebra keeping us company.
A group of elephants could be seen in the distance, steadily walking towards us, exciting to say the least, as these are my favourite animals of all time. They ambled closer, foraging and eating the sweet grass, the rumblings carrying across the bush between us. One of them, though, seemed very interested in us. She moved forward, trunk up in that high “S” shape like a submarine periscope as she tried to retrieve scent.
Realisation came at about the same time. I recognised the tear in her ear at the same instant the scent she had collected registered within her own memory. She squealed loudly and began that clumsy-looking shambling run so characteristic of elephants, headed directly for us. My friend, David reached for the keys to start the engine and drive us out of danger. I told him not to worry. His eyes were the size of plates as he looked first at me then at the rapidly approaching elephant.
But I must give him credit. He paused long enough for the elephant to get alongside the Landy, by which time it would have been too late anyway.
I climbed out of the vehicle and stood on the side step to make me taller as her trunk ran lightly over my torso, ending up at my face which was investigated thoroughly. She leant forward, our foreheads touched, her trunk moving up over my shoulder and around my neck. We stood like that for a while. We communicated as some deep primeval level, welcoming our friendship, celebrating the fact that after eight years of being apart, we were and always will be friends.
The other members of the herd had shown little interest in us and were steadily moving away. She released her trunk from my neck and stretched into the Landy, sniffing, but there were no apples.
With a huge sigh and a last deep rumble she stepped back, did her characteristic headshake of farewell, and turned and ambled off to join her family.
Another magical day in Africa ……… with a friend.
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