How An Elephant Changed My Life in the African Bush

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I realize this may sound like exaggerated hyperbole. But, until you’ve come face-to-face with an animal more than twice your height and 75 times your weight, it’s hard to fathom how the experience can alter your perception of humanity’s place in the Universe. For me, it happened during the first game drive on the first day of my Kruger National Park safari in South Africa.

Elephant texture shot

This close up portrait shot was taken while sitting amongst a breeding herd.

He was a massive bull elephant, feeding on a tree about 75 yards from our open-air safari vehicle. As he noticed us, he slowly turned and ambled our way with a sense of purpose. When he got within 50 yards, I began looking at our guide nervously. By the time he’d reached the 30 yard mark, we asked if perhaps it was time to move the Jeep and give him some space. Solomon assured us that it was fine, as the elephant came closer and closer and closer.

Ranger Don Heyneke has a close encounter with a large elephant bull in musth. Often getting a bad reputation as being irritable and dangerous (although this can be true), large musth bulls, if approached cautiously , can offer wonderful sightings. This one was following the scent trail of a breeding herd of females that had recently passed through.

Ranger Don Heyneke has a close encounter with a large elephant bull in musth. Often getting a bad reputation as being irritable and dangerous (although this can be true), large musth bulls, if approached cautiously , can offer wonderful sightings. This one was following the scent trail of a breeding herd of females that had recently passed through.

Finally he stopped, less than 10 yards from my side of the vehicle, his humongous face at my eye level. He lifted his trunk into the air and sniffed, his nostrils pointed right at me: I swear I could feel his breath when he exhaled. There was not a single movement– not a single sound– from the 6 passengers. After what felt like an eternity, the elephant turned, walked over to the nearest tree and pushed it over as if to say, “You see what I could have done to you?” I wept at the overwhelming beauty of the moment.

Written by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

Rich Laburn
Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.
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