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The grey giants of Africa


The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book? – David Attenborough

As a conservationist, safari guide and animal lover of all things big and small, the above statement terrifies me. For those of you like me who have had the privilege of spending time around these magical beasts, to think of a world without elephants is something I cannot fathom. Never to hear the low grumble of a mother calling her calf, the squeal of delight when a youngster runs into a river to cool down, or the protective trumpet from a matriarch defending her calf… this would be unacceptable! It would leave a dark cloud of malevolence hanging over mankind for eons to come.

Elephants are big. Not just large, bulky or heavy. They are gargantuan! In physical presence, power of spirit, intelligence and the overall aura that they exude. Until you have seen one, had an experience with them, or simply spent a quiet moment observing them going about their daily lives this is hard to understand. With this in mind and with the issues that they as a species are facing due to mankind’s brutality, greed and overall overpopulation of the world we share, I thought it would be great time to share my love for them and showcase these “grey giants of Africa”.

To start with, there is an amazing and heartfelt documentary that has been created by two people who have spent a lifetime filming and observing elephants. Dereck and Beverley Joubert have lived in Botswana for the last 30 years and are probably the most qualified to share their thoughts on these magical creatures. The “Soul of the Elephant” portrays all aspects of the life of an elephant. The video below is a preview of the actual documentary.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick of the “David Sheldrick Wildife Trust” is another fascinating and incredibly dedicated wildlife personality. I was fortunate to spend a month with Daphne and her family in Kenya, in Tsavo and Nairobi a number of years ago. The stories she told and the life she has lived would inspire anyone to preserve our natural world. The Trusts’ work is invaluable and the number of elephant calves that they have saved, and more importantly raised to be released into the wilderness is an amazing achievement. These tiny little orphans enter the orphanage, broken, scared and alone. The love they receive from their keepers as well as the herd dynamic of the older orphans allows them to slowly find a place in a world that started out so violent and sad. To have seen them and then years later read that they have joined a wild herd is amazing. It takes time, dedication and trust. Funny how these positive traits are shared between humans and elephants? Not just a coincidence I think. Except the darkness creeps through in us humans. The short video below gives some insight into their work.

There are many organizations doing some fantastic work across Africa for elephants. Without all of you we would be in a far worse position than we are now. So, lets celebrate some of the moments we have spent with these pachyderms over the last few years. From the smallest to the largest to the cute and intimidating, these creatures will have an everlasting impression on you.

An elephant calf learning to play with it’s rather large and elongated nose.

A large elephant bull slaking it’s thirst at Singita Pamushana in Zimbabwe.

A sighting that Mike, Mark and I will never forget. We were in the Kruger National park in the height of the 2016 Drought. About 50 elephant bulls in one long line were walking towards us on their daily journey to one of the last watering holes that still had water in it.

Some of the most adaptable elephants in Africa are the desert elephants of the Skeleton coast, Namibia. The rugged dunes and stone in the background contrasting with some greenery in the Haonib River.

A herd walking towards us in the Sabi Sand game reserve,South Africa. This a great example of family unity. The video below shows the whole episode with the Matriarch (lead female) showing the way.

A bachelor group of elephant bulls drinking and swapping stories at a watering hole, Chem Chem lodge, Tanzania.

One of my favorite! A huge bull in the background listening to some youngsters and showing them who is in charge. This is so vital for young bull elephants, as the tutorage they get for adult bulls teaches them about what it is to be a bull elephant. Much like our fathers do for us.

I love the mood of this image. A different perspective of a large elephant bull.

A breeding herd of elephants saunters across a lush floodplain in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. This is a real sanctuary for elephants and one of the best places in the world to see them.

A breeding herd moves across a parched landscape in search of food in Ghonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe.

An old bull investigates a vehicle. How many stories could this old chap tell?

Wait for me mom!!! A young calf running flat out for mom, tail up in distress. Everything seems so intimidating when you that small, even for an elephant.

After some heavy rains in early 2016, the Jao concession in the Okavango filled with water. A breeding herd takes full advantage of the new water source.

Crossing the Sand River in the Sabi Sands Game reserve, South Africa.

To these grey beasts roaming the vast but diminishing swathes of Africa: Let us hope that we as a species can be better. Can do better, and overall, protect the heritage that we have a responsibility to protect so that our future generations can experience you in your full glory.

Yours in conservation,