Entries in Tarangire National Park (1)


The Gentle Giants

Truth be told when I first returned home from Africa, I woke up every morning expecting to see the elephants again.  I knew I was in trouble a month later when I was invited to a party on a horse farm in Chester  County, outside Phila. and found myself scoping the tall grassy fields for a sight of these ancestral ones. I remember thinking that they would love this tall grass as, of course, all the other surrounding fields of grass as well!

Elephants eat 18 hours a day in great constrast to the lions, leopards, cheetahs that sleep 18 hours a day. They can weigh up to 15,000 lbs and if their life is not interrupted by their only enemy, man, they can live up to 70 years. Once they have gone through their six different sets of teeth over the span of their life they head for the softer marsh grasses that are easier to chew and then die.They are the earth's gentle giants that still roam our plains. They possess a social hierarchy, behaviors that demonstrate self awareness and a ritualistic process for taking care of their young, elders, sick and dying. Their social structure is complex with the matriarch always being present to big herds. If more than one bull is present, it is because they are brothers; otherwise, they keep to themselves and, or, seek a new herd to mate with.

Elephants are so fun to watch as they seem to defy their massive weight. Everything is moving at once.They have a boyancy and a lot of wiggle in their walk and their ears are perpetually fanning themselves in a slow rhythmic wave in order to maintain their homeostatis in the equatorial heat. In these moments, they look like they are moving along to the song O-bla de- O bla da- life goes on blah.....Sometimes, they walk slow with such a deliberate forward propelled motion that it seems they are carrying the full weight of the world. I have wondered if these ancient creatures have their cellular consciousness speaking the collective history of the world to them? Watching them, at times, in very large herds moving steadily across the plains like pilgrims on a journey stirs a very deep archetypal ache within the soul. The elephants and the first hominids, which date back 3.5 million years ago in East Africa , lived near the Ngorongoro Crater and the Olduvi Gorge in Tanzania. Tanzania holds ancient vibes in its earth and this World Heritage Site exposes the archeological, geological and anthropological beginnings of life. Visiting here brought a unexpected piece of a puzzle of understanding in my soul. I felt that seeing these unearthed findings, standing on this ground, touching and smelling this earth allowed me to connect to my inherited existence as a human who has travelled this far and survived the test of time. I hope for all humankind sake that we continue for millions of generations to come.    

No other creature but man would dare consider messing with the adult elephant. I recently understood what is behind the old saying that "the elephant never forgets". They belong to the elite group known as the Big Five, along with the buffalo, lion, leopard and rhinocerous because they are hardest to be captured or killed. This is because once they know who their enemy is they never, ever forget and they will seek revenge.

It is a wonderfully, strange phenomena to behold an elephant close up. It is a mixture of excitement and fear because of their sheer massiveness. It is an awesome moment to look in their eyes and be seen by them. Their eyes are softly attentive and receptive. One time  while staying at a beautiful, large lodge that was just on the edge of the Tarangire National Park, I took a walk down the steps to a lower floor only to discover myself face to face with a baby elephant 4 ft. in front of me. What separated us was a mere three ft.stone wall that either one of us could have stepped over. The baby and I were both startled to come upon one another. It was one of those moments in life when a situation could go either way.  My first impulse was to go up to this baby as it seemed so approachable. It was truly my first encounter!  Quickly, my rationale kicked in as I realized that my little Dumbo is a wild animal who probably weighs ten times me and whose mother is eating just around the corner. When I found my legs again, I perfected for the first time in my life Michael Jackson's moonwalk and quietly dismissed myself.

Another close encounter occurred one day while we were watching a parade of elephants go by while perched safely in our safari vechicle . When the large herd who had gathered in a small river bank was finished bathing, drinking and spraying themselves with dirt to keep bugs away, they began moving in our direction .When the sheer power of tons after tons of gray flesh past within ten feet of our vechicle we felt the sensation of a passing freight train that was a little too close for comfort!  But the truth is, on safari the excitement outweighs the fear; the awe outweighs the long bumpy and dusty travel that is required to truly witness safari at its best and the experience of seeing these bigger than life animals in their natural habitat is the most enlivening experience I have ever had. Pure and simple elephants make me happy!