On our first afternoon drive at Amboseli National Park in Kenya, it was obvious that our driver was on a mission. He did not tell us what the mission was, but you tell that he was more or less killing time until something happened, and that he needed to be in right place at the right time for us to see it. As the sun started to set, the CB radio came alive with excited chatter and the final race was on. It is evidently a matter of some pride among the drivers to get their clients as close to the spot where the elephants choose to cross the road on that particular afternoon on their way to the slightly higher ground in the north section of the park to spend the night. There are several trails. As a guide, you can’t afford to guess wrong and have your clients miss the whole thing…and you can’t come late or they will be at the very back of the press of safari vans with not much of a view, and you can’t come early since your vehicle in the path might turn the herd to another trail. Timing is everything. You need among the first to arrive after the herd is committed to a trail. We were one van length from the trail they used that day. A bit crazy perhaps. I had to wonder would happen if one of those huge creatures decided to come through us instead of through the gap…but they all thundered through 20 feet from us. The shot above is of one of the “pioneer” elephants who was already across the road when we arrived, but within the next 10 minutes the heard joined him and they moved off to the north. The link below is to a video slideshow of the experience.
This good sized male Elephant at Kruger National Park looped his trunk up over his tusk while on the march. I am not sure if this a common behavior…I only saw it this once…but it seems like it might take some of the strain off the prehensile muscles while on the move.
Sony RX10iii at 165mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Lightroom.
As I have mentioned before, Kruger National Park is suffering the worst drought in a generation right now. It is easy to find Elephants. They are clustered around any water source. This dam is one of the few that still has standing water, and the Elephants come to drink and bath. Elephants love mud. They coat their hides with it daily, I assume as some protection from the sun. It is fascinating to watch these huge creatures apparently at play in the water.
Sony RX10iii at 600mm equivalent field of view. 1/640th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed and cropped slightly in Lightroom.
One of the things that impressed me about the Ranger/Drivers of Viva Safaris was how respectful they were of the animals they showed us. This young male Elephant at Kruger National Park was clearly bothered about something, and spent 15 minutes deciding if it was us, before bolting across the road in front of us in a mock charge. All that time our driver sat with one foot on the accelerator and a hand on the gear-shift, ready to move at need, but definitely giving the Elephant every opportunity to make up its mind. Even a young bull like this could easily flip a Game Viewer full of tourists, so I was happy when he decided that a brief show of force was all that was needed, and went on his way off into the bush.
Sony RX10iii at 150mm equivalent field of view. 1/320th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Lightroom.
You can not visit Kruger National Park in South Africa right now without quickly realizing that Kruger is in trouble. 2 years of intense drought has brought water levels in the dams and natural watering holes to record lows. Many once reliable sources of water have dried up entirely. Large sections of Kruger look more like desert than savannah or scrub woodland. And the park is overpopulated with large herbivores…elephants and hippos in particular. The elephants are surviving so far by pushing over trees to get at the edible bark of the roots. In some sections of Kruger there are very few standing trees left, which, of course, further alters the environment: reduces shade, accelerates desertification, and reduces habitat for birds, reptiles, and mammals that depend on the trees. The hippos, who rely only on standing grasses, are simply dying. 30 died the week I was there. The day I left, the park took the unprecedented step of culling 300 hippos and distributing the meat to surrounding villages. Sad as that is, having been there I know that the choice for those hippos was between a quick death and slow lingering death by starvation. And unless the rains come this South African summer, beginning this month and next, the elephants will begin to die too. Elephants need 200-600 pounds of fodder per day to survive…and up to 50 gallons of water. The park does still operate several bore holes with windmills and tanks and pools, and we saw big male elephants standing on the buttresses of the water tanks, tanks as tall as a two story house, and putting their trunks up over the tank walls to drink. The debate is on as to whether in the long run it is a kindness (or ecologically sound practice) to provide supplemental water to a population of elephants that is already considerably over what the land will bear. There are no good solutions, and even if the rains come this season, the park will take generations to recover.
Because water is scarce, the wildlife is concentrated. Herds of elephants come to the dams, off and on all day, to drink and cover their hides in mud. This is a large female, drinking her bathtub full of water for the day.
Sony RX10iii at 247mm equivalent field of view. 1/800th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Lightroom.
The long range forecast models for South Africa are producing mixed results. Some models predict lower than normal precipitation this summer, some predict higher than normal…some predict a dry spring and a wet fall, and some the reverse. If you are a praying person, and the animals of Kruger matter to you, you might spare a prayer for a wet summer for South Africa…this year and for several years to come.
Disney would never have gotten away with titling a major release “Dumbo” today…but as a historical association I am stuck with the name. This young, perhaps year old, elephant at Kruger National Park in South Africa had fallen behind his mother and was covering the ground pretty fast to catch up. I have a whole sequence of shots, but, of course, forgot the video button on the camera (as usual). This collage, created in Coolage, captures some of the effect. There were, as I mentioned in a previous post, lots of young elephants among the herds at Kruger.
Sony RX10iii at 580mm equivalent field of view. 1/320th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Lightroom and assembled in Coolage.