Within minutes of landing in the Lower Zambezi National Park, we witnessed two elephants playing in the water and I was instantly captivated by these animals.
But I think it was around our third or fourth day in the Lower Zambezi when I fully began to appreciate just how fragile the lives of African elephants are.
We had just enjoyed a bush breakfast at Anabezi safari camp and a professional photographer – and fellow guest – wanted to go on one last game drive to capture some photography of the elephants. We decided to join him and that’s when we saw them: a herd of around eight elephants, every single one of them a different size, in one of the most captivating scenes we’d seen yet.
They wanted to get to the watering hole to drink, but in an attempt to stay clear of our vehicle, they took the slightly more challenging route, through the marshy river bank.
As they squelched towards the water, they had to use all their energy to pull each giant foot in and out of the deep mud. Our guide turned the engine off and we watched in silence, completely enthralled by the scene, as their giant wrinkly legs heaved their huge bodies, simply so they could quench their thirst.
When the herd finally made it across their obstacle, they stood and drank, splashing water over their backs and over each other. The calf was too young to use its trunk, so it knelt down and opened its mouth, probably wondering what on earth its long dangly nose was for.
Thirsts quenched, the elephants began to make their return back to the long grass and the long, arduous crossing began again. This time the calf got stuck and looked like it was sinking.
We all gasped in the vehicle, desperate to help in some way. I was terrified it was going to hurt itself or even worse…
Time seemed to slow down in that moment. And after what seemed like hours of despair, this little infant mustered up all its energy to lunge its body forward.
It finally made it out of the mud, with a nudge or two from the bigger elephants beside it.
We all let out the biggest sigh of relief and felt happy that this little baby ellie could carry on its day, watching its elders and learning how to eat, how to drink and how to be one of the most amazing creatures on earth. We watched a bit more as they threw clouds of dust over themselves to protect their skin from the sun. They then let out a few trumpets of noise and plodded back into the long grass.
The reason I’m telling this story is because it was one of the most enthralling moments of our safari. And it was one of the moments I realised just how incredible, yet fragile the lives of these animals are.
I first began to fully appreciate just how much African elephants are under threat, when we visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya. I was heartbroken when I heard the story of Godoma and other the calves – and how they are found alone, after their parents have been killed by poachers. The DSWT and other organisations work hard to fight poaching and help the offspring who have been left orphaned because of it. But the sad reality is, growing numbers of elephants are still killed every day.
Of course, it’s not just elephants who are affected. Rhinos, tigers, pangolins and all sorts of other species around the world are also unnecessarily killed for cosmetic, aesthethic or for ‘alternative medical’ reasons.
Can you imagine a day where you’re telling your future children and grandchildren that elephants, rhinos and our other great creatures, can now only be seen in books, in the zoo and on old wildlife documentaries on TV? I can’t.
Thankfully, organisations like the DSWT, 500 elephants and Save The Elephants are working hard to try and stop the damage being done by poachers. They’re trying to clamp down on the criminals, relocate elephant populations and educate the people who are involved in the illegal trade.
I learnt many things about these beautiful creatures during my travels in Zambia, especially on our walking safari. Elephants, as you may know, have evolved to be incredibly adaptable, intelligent and emotional creatures and I began to understand this from just a few days that we spent, watching them in the wild.
These have been just a few of my favourite photos captured during our Zambia safaris. Mr C and I also created a video to capture our memories of the elephants we saw in Zambia, which you can watch here.
One day we hope to go back to Africa with our children, and maybe even our children’s children – and still see them still thriving.
For more information about elephant conservation, SheldrickWildlifeTrust.org, 500Elephants.org and ElephantConservation.org are all great sources of info. I also highly recommend you watch Saving Africa’s Elephants: Hugh and The Ivory War.