Friday 19 January 2018

Close enough for you, ladies?

Gemma O'Doherty

Hair-raising moments of 2010? I'm taken back to a sultry day in the South African bush. We'd spent most of the morning watching a family of lions at play and were heading for the Mozambique border on the trail of a leopard we'd been tracking for a couple of days.

The track ahead was bumpy and unbeaten as we entered into virgin savannah stretching down to a river valley. And then it happened. A sea of crinkled grey appeared on the horizon -- one, two, 10... we stopped counting after 30.

Even our unflappable guide, who was born and reared in the bush, said he'd never seen so many elephants in the same place at the same time.

The big problem with this bunch of nellies was the fact there were so many little ones, and none of them were packing their trunks in the opposite direction. We had come upon a veritable kindergarten of tiny calves so cute you could lift them up and take them home.

But anyone familiar with the bush knows that there are few things more threatening than an inconvenienced new mother.

And so our group -- a pair of honeymooning New Yorkers, a couple of safari experts from Cape Town and my husband and I -- put our trust in Colin, our guide, and prayed for a happy ending as the herd slowly surrounded our jeep until we were cornered at all sides.

Colin had prepared us for this moment. Don't move an inch. Don't say a word. Don't grab a camera. Just sit. But the matriarch of the group wasn't having any of it.

By now, she was standing within touching distance of the jeep, flapping her ears at the enemy, daring one of us to look crooked at her youngsters and find out the consequences.

As her stare deepened, Colin slowly shifted his arm over the driver's door. She flapped. He responded with a swift tap of his two fingers on the side of the jeep. She growled in our direction but suddenly moved back, inching the herd away from us.

In 10 minutes they had vanished from the horizon, leaving a wasteland of broken tree trunks and frazzled nerves in their wake. As we pulled away, a tiny bead of sweat trickling down Colin's brow was all the proof we needed that it had been a lucky escape.

So I empathised with these two ladies pictured above, who found themselves in a similar position in Zambia recently when a giant bull elephant came within three feet of their veranda.

No doubt every instinct in their body was telling them to run, but they took the safest possible course of action, sitting bone still for fear of sparking a stampede.

Once their uninvited visitor had established they posed no risk, he meandered off again and the pair were unharmed.

One of the women's husbands, who happened to be cleaning up his camera case beside them at the time, even managed to capture it on film.

That's one holiday snap worth having.

Irish Independent

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