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Close Encounter

"Remember, elephants are WILD. Elephants and people are enemies." said Sam, Zimbabwean professional guide with a look that conveyed he had seen more than he wanted to tell. His warning came as a surprise because I had always thought of elephants as intelligent gentle giants, creatures who even mourn their dead. Perhaps both statements are true. Sam also said to "never, ever run from an elephant or make a sudden move."

I should have kept Sam's words in mind one day when I went by myself to the lodge property blind overlooking a small lake to photograph birds. Here I could sit on a chair in a small hut, and set my camera on a tripod aimed through a three foot tall and six foot wide opening. First a warthog came by, followed by a small family of elephants to drink, and fling mud on themselves. They moved on, except for one large tusked bull who stayed behind. He drank and then walked over to my blind. He came closer and saw me. He walked back for more water then back to my blind. But this time he came right up to the opening, his head and tusks not more than three feet away from me. He stared at me. I stared at him. I was VERY still and intrigued with his face so I took an image, but this close, I could only see a piece of his head. But then, realizing I was alone, I felt at risk and yes, afraid.

So I decided to move a couple of feet backwards, by scooting the chair back with my feet, but this was the WRONG thing to do. He became agitated, made loud elephant shrieking noises while flapping his ears like war flags. I sat completely motionless after that! I wondered if he could sense my heart beating, my fear. The staring continued.

Eventually he made a "harumph" noise, tossed his head sideways, turned and walked away. When I later told the lodge manager the story, he said that I was completely safe in the blind hut. I'm not so sure. The elephant was almost as big as the hut.


Note: (In 2019 in Zimbabwe, 33 villagers have been killed by elephants that wandered out of parks seeking food. They are just hungry, because of current drought conditions.)

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Susan Rouillier
Bird Photographer and Painter

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