There we were, on the second day — the first full day — of our trip to South Africa, less than 24 hours since entering Kruger National Park, when Tori spotted the distant herd of elephants. There were so many that they looked like a big tan blob slowly undulating across a hillside.
But the road we were on curved ahead in the opposite direction, taking us even further from the animals. We carried on, somewhat dismayed.
Then a couple miles further we saw a turnoff, onto a minor gravel road heading in the direction of the tan blob.
Two roads diverged in the bush, and we took the one that led us to elephants. As we started up the hill, the tan blob had vanished. I went slowly, not sure if they had already moved on and definitely not wanting to find out by surprising them.
And then this:
We parked and waited. I didn’t want to be one of those idiot tourists who harasses the animals, though maybe I could have pulled up a little more. But in the end I was glad I didn’t because the elephants came to us, crossing the road and spreading out on either side. I counted more than 50 and could tell from the occasional raised trunk or glimpse of butt or ear in the distance that there were many more.
Almost immediately, as they moved closer, we noticed one mature female who parked herself at about 2 o’clock, off the driver side of the car, and watched us. She didn’t seem threatened (or threatening) but while the other elephants came and went and grazed and rough-housed, she stood there, eyes on us.
And who can blame her? There were a huge number of young elephants in all stages of development. Like this guy (ermahgerd, berbee erlerphant!):
Want more of him? Oh, I got it, believe me:
Just one more…I could stop if I wanted to, but I don’t want to!
Then we had two older (but still juvenile) males wrestling playfully (note the trunk slung over the other’s back):
If you think we were seriously losing it, squealing as quietly as we could, you would be correct. How could we not?
Elephants, stretching across the horizon, doing what they do without worrying about the two puny humans in the tin can (aside from The Nanny, still keeping a watchful eye). It was brilliant.
And there’s more. So much more.
It was impossible to get a shot that conveyed how many of them there were, and — wait a second —
— is she still watching us? Yep. Still watching.
Anyway, here are a few more elephants:
I called this guy Dumbo (affectionately):
Did I mention the light was awesome — it was still early-ish morning, the time of day I’d usually be getting to work half-awake and sitting down with my third cup of coffee.
So yeah, we just sat. A couple other vehicles came up behind us during the hour or so we were there, but everyone was calm and quiet and gave these incredible animals space, which made me even happier.
Eventually, all good and wonderful things come to an end, and we noticed that the half of the herd on the left side of the road, downhill from our vantage point and a little difficult to see through the grass, seemed to be gathering and moving further away.
On cue, the rest of the herd, on the right side of the road, got in formation and followed their kin.
Except, of course, for our Watcher. Even with baby elephants actually bumping into her (adorably) her eyes were trained on us:
She left, eventually, bringing up the rear of the elephant convoy.
(Our watcher is in the rear of this crowd, not visible.)
One last photo as the herd moved off, down the hill and out of site, leaving Tori and I to dab at our eyes (I’m not crying, you’re crying!) and check our cameras’ battery levels.
It turned out to be a good thing we made sure the batteries weren’t totally drained, because remember, it’s still morning. There were hours of animals still ahead of us.
(Continues in Part Three: I Question This Elephant’s Parenting Skills)