To say that I was excited is an understatement of immense proportions. In fact, I honestly couldn’t believe that I had been selected to travel with a group of scientists to Tanzania, Africa. My boss, John Sailor, Editor in Chief of the Marquis Nature Magazine, felt that I should be the one to cover the story even though I was still a novice and wet behind the ears.
The assignment seemed rather simple in that I only had to chronicle the goings on of the crew and then write about it and send it back to John for editing and approval. That suited me just fine being as I wouldn’t have to develop or create a story, something I could do but preferred not to do being as it was a top-notch magazine and I didn’t want to risk my reputation, as young as it was, handing in a completely amateurish piece.
We arrived at the Serengeti National Park just before sunset so I was a little disappointed of my first impression of the country. Once all the introductions were made, we settled back while the rangers at the station prepared the meal and we were shown to our quarters, which were basically some old army cots in a room with netting around them. To use an old saying, “I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore”.
Oddly enough, even with all the excitement racing through my body, I fell asleep shortly after our supper and if it hadn’t been for one of the doctors waking me up, I would have slept the morning away. Breakfast consisted of some kind of porridge mixture, some fruit and a cup of very strong coffee. I couldn’t wait to get out into the wilderness to see the sights I’d heard and read so much about. Everyone at the magazine had told me that the countryside was absolutely breathtaking and I have to admit that when I stepped outside that first morning, I was in awe of the grandeur before me.
I learned from one of the park rangers that we would be going in search of a baby elephant that had been spotted alone in the deep brush about five miles from the compound. We loaded into the trucks and were off. I asked if we would see any of the big game animals and was told we might but that where we were going it would be away from where those animals usually roamed.
It didn’t take long before I felt the immense heat of the African sun and wiped the sweat from my brow, thankful for the safari hat I was wearing. I looked over and noticed one of the rangers smiling at me.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
He pointed to my head. “You head is like the football”, and he motioned with his head back and forth and around.
Watching him made me laugh because I knew that’s exactly what I must have looked like to him. I took the small recorder from my pocket and began taping the events as we went along, which was no easy task when bouncing around and being jarred from the bumpy road. Twice I almost lost my grip on the recorder when I had to grab hold of the metal bar next to my head caused by hitting some major dried up mud holes in the road.
Before long, the trucks slowed and one of the rangers pointed to some heavy brush off to the left of the truck. I couldn’t see anything at first but as I kept watching, I spotted some movement and then saw the baby elephant moving about. Up until that point, I had only ever seen elephants in the zoo, the circus or on television and movies. This was my first live witnessing of an elephant in the wild.
I eagerly watched as the rangers were the first to exit the vehicles, telling the rest of us to remain in the trucks. Two of them had rifles. No one spoke out loud as the rangers coordinated their mission with hand signals. A moment later, they had the rifles raised and both fired at the same time. I learned that they had shot tranquilizers into the elephant and it took off. The rangers jumped back into the trucks and we gave pursuit, driving over the rough terrain. I jammed the recorder into my pocket and held on for dear life, my teeth clacking and jarring in my mouth as we went airborne a few times and bounced back and forth and up and down on the landings.
Ten minutes later, the elephant started to slow and before long, came to a complete halt where it staggered a bit and then collapsed to the ground. The rangers and the doctors immediately ran to the animal and started working on it. One of the rangers called something over his walkie-talkie and within minutes, a heavy equipment truck appeared and the elephant, now fitted with harnesses, was lifted into the truck. With that accomplished, we proceeded to head back to the camp.
Two days later, the baby elephant, tagged and being fed and inoculated with different shots, seemed to be settling in. During those two days, I visited the enclosure and marveled at the site of this magnificent animal. It amazed me how such a large creature would be so vulnerable to attack and death if it wasn’t properly taken care of. Even more incredible to me was how this baby, so seemingly helpless at the moment, would grow up and one day be so powerful that it would rule with majesty.
On the third morning, the baby elephant seemed to be real agitated and before anyone could get to it to see what was wrong, an amazing thing happened. Out of the stand of trees surrounding the perimeter of the facility, came a monstrous sized elephant with giant tusks. Not caring about anyone or anything nearby, it made its way over to the enclosure and proceeded to rip it apart with its mighty trunk and amazingly powerful legs.
Once everything was cleared, it wrapped its trunk around the chain that was securing the baby’s leg to stakes and gave a super pull on it. At first, the stakes held and it looked as though the baby would be held there and the mother would fail. But then the mother slowly raised herself up on her hind legs and the stakes gave way. That accomplished, she moved to the baby and pushed the now loose chain from the baby’s leg with her foot.
In the meantime, everyone just stood and observed. No one made an attempt to stop the mother from taking her baby, either because they felt it was best to let the two of them go or because they were afraid of what the mother would do if they tried to interfere. The two elephants then turned and walked out of the compound with all the confidence in the world that nothing was going to stop them again.
I was in Africa for over three weeks and saw many wonderful animals and birds and sunsets, but of all the magnificent beauty I encountered, nothing compared to when I witnessed the day the elephant broke her daughter free.
October 9, 2014