Have you ever been so close to an elephant you can count his eyelashes? No? Technically, me either... But I was damn close to one on my recent trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa. Known for being notoriously hit or miss for seeing wildlife, we absolutely scored on our trip into the park.
We (my friend Elmari and I) arrived at our lodge, Crocodile Kruger Safari Lodge, the night before and got settled in. After a long 72-hour travel adventure complete with two 10+ hour flights and lots of wine and movies, I fought my way to 10PM in an attempt to prevent jet lag. In the morning we arose (mostly) bright and early, and ready for our safari trip into Kruger!
When we entered the park, I was giddy with excitement! I had never seen wild African animals outside of a zoo let alone in their natural habitat. We passed impala after impala, kudus left and right, zebras, wildebeests, an ostrich and we even passed a family of warthogs. All within the first 10 minutes entering the park!
Then our guide spotted a group of stopped cars nearby and pulled over onto one of the side roads. He informed us that a group of cars stopped on the side of the road indicates something big and exciting within sight. Annnnd he was right! We spotted them quickly after he pulled over--five female lions all lounging against a wall enjoying the morning sunshine! And just like that, we checked off the first on our list of the “Big Five.”
We continued along, bouncing and rumbling our way deeper into the park. We spotted a herd of elephants off in the distance making their way slowly along, almost parallel to us. Our guide, who had spent the majority of his life working as a ranger in the park told us that they may be heading towards a common watering hole and might, with luck, cross the road a bit further along. So we stayed course with them, gradually reducing the amount of space between us.
During our slow tracking of the elephants we learned that each herd is lead by a matriarch, and typically only contains the females and babies. Since most of the bull elephants (males) are overly aggressive, they tend to operate alone or stick to packs of 2 or 3. The female dominated herds (or harems) are led by the eldest amongst them in the hopes that the leader will have experienced any situation and can navigate her herd through difficult times. For the Southern Kruger elephants, drought is the largest threat and this particular matriarch survived the last one.
We finally approached the part of the road where our guide believed they would cross and came to stop. Being as quiet as possible to not scare them off we all prepared to watch these magnificent creatures come by us. Sure enough, the matriarch appeared through the bush and started making her way across the road followed by her herd. There were at least a hundred elephants! They were so close to us you could feel the ground shake and see their tough leathery skin. Once they finished crossing we continued on the road keeping them in sight. We parked nearby and watched as 2 bull elephants, not part of the original group, walked directly towards our truck. They stopped and checked us out for a minute before continuing on their way. Heart pounding, we checked off number two for the “Big Five.”
For all the photos from my trip to South Africa go here! There are also prints available for purchase from my art store.
Part II COMING SOON