By Alan McSmith, private safari guide
When Elephants Alive, a leading South Africa elephant research organisation asked me to assist in scouting for a unique elephant bull, I jumped at the chance.
The elephant, known to The Kruger National Park as Mondzweni, is one of the largest emerging tuskers in the lowveld, therefore incredibly valuable for tourism, conservation and research purposes.
As a result, Elephants Alive arranged a collaring operation so that he could be followed by satellite monitors. This is crucial to determine his range and movement patterns. And of course to conserve his unique bloodline. It was a challenge to find Mondzweni in dense bush, but after a few hours we were royally rewarded. A grassy verge was a perfect vantage point to approach the magnificent elephant. He knew we were there but showed no sign of apprehension or aggression whatsoever. We were sitting now, and slowly he drifted closer and closer, gently watching us while he fed, stopping at 7 meters from us. The moments were overwhelming.
Its during encounters like this that the boundaries of our own fear, understanding, projections and limitations fade, and blur with those of the elephant. Like him, we became part of the landscape, bound by a seminal sense of wonder.
It is quite a thing to sedate an elephant as there are high degrees of stress and risk involved. Once darted from the air, the team of vets, conservationists and the Elephants Alive crew were on hand within minutes. The team worked fast; collar fitted, measurements and DNA samples taken. The great elephant was cooled with water; his eye shaded with a folded-over ear; his breathing checked.
Next to him now. The touch of his skin and delicate ears. His magnificent ivory. Graceful eyelashes. Padded feet and tender soles; such gentleness. The deep resonating breaths. An elephant is many things for many people; surely an indelible work of art to be protected in Africa’s tapestry of landscapes forever.
Antidote injected. C’mon Mondzweni, get up! Slowly, rocking himself back onto his feet, the elephant stood, and began to emerge from the depths. This was the moment I was praying for since day began, all was well.