This particular elephant was one of the nicest elephants I’ve ever met.
click for a larger picture
I was leading a tour group in the vicinity of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The local guide suggested that we could take a walk along a particular trail, as long as vehicles stayed near by in case of trouble. This is a pretty standard thing to do with tourists in Africa. They get tired of being in vehicles all the time. If you know an area well enough, and have the vehicles near by, you can walk around a while. This gives us a chance to show people things like plants and insects up close (instead of just running them over) and you get to hear the sounds of nature, rather than the sound of your Land Cruiser.
So we did this, and at one point the sounds of nature started to include the crunching vegetable matter by a large herbivore. It was, of course, this elephant. When an elephant slowly, gently, and with utmost power, wraps it’s trunk around a tree, a branch, a vine, or a bunch of grass, and moves it from it’s original planty mooring, you cannot tell that the elephant is using more or less energy. A medium size tree and a ‘fist’ full of grass are all handled with about the same attention, effort, grace, and apparent strength, even though these tasks are obviously quite different.
So we were hearing the sound of an elephant munching on grass and the occasional vine. After testing the wind (yes, we were down wind from the sound) we ventured a little closer, and could see that it was this particular elephant, whom the guards knew well (because he was older than all of them). This elephant, one of the largest males in this area had never shown aggression and was not spooked by people on foot. So we probably could have walked right up to him and he would not care. In face, if we were up wind, he would not know, because at this age, he was probably pretty close to blind.
But, this elephant is part of a loosely knit herd, and he was not alone. Off in the bush, out of sight, we could hear other elephants also munching down. So we signaled for the truck, in order to not have the tourists all trampled by some elephant we accidentally startled.
Then, in the Land Cruisers, we did drive over to this particular elephant, as he utterly ignored us. This photo was taken with a fifty millimeter lens. He was big, I was close. And we were both pretty happy about it.