Playful giants

We spent a wonderful five days on the Chobe river with CNP in mid-August.  The river’s water level had subsided from its peak in June. This gave the larger mammals an opportunity to cross onto the partially flooded islands to graze.

“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the Elephants except those that we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only Elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”
Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer

One large mammal that loves the water is the Chobe Elephant. Generally, you will find them down along the river’s edge drinking in the afternoon. But drinking time is also fun time……..yes!!!

Chobe PM 8-Aug-14 0022

The Elephants are quite happy to immerse themselves in the water. You can just imagine what it must be like after a long trek (sometimes over thirty kilometres) to get to the water in winter. It is hot and dusty and that water is sparkling and inviting.

“Unlike the primate hand, the Elephant’s grasping organ is also its nose. Elephants use their trunks not only to reach food but also to sniff and touch it. With their unparalleled sense of smell, the animals know exactly what they are going for. Vision is secondary”.

Frans de Waal

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Elephants are one of the only mammals which dare to combine their thirst quenching with a swimming session in the Chobe river. Usually the crocodiles will not attack them, especially if there are a few playing in the water at the same time.

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After a refreshing swim, the older Elephants sedately walk away from the water. Not the youngsters, invigorated they start to mock fight. Nothing serious just pushing each other around.

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The next image gives you an idea of the vastness, peace and tranquility along the Chobe river. A small group of Elephants were cooling off in the late afternoon.

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Having cooled off, it was time to play. The buoyancy in the water helps these pachyderms.

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They were just playing!

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“The road is long
With many a winding turns
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where

But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother……”

 -Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

There is always one in the group that seems to like stepping up on the others’ back.

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And when your mates are a bit too heavy, a snorkel comes in useful.

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This bull had just crossed the river to get to the main Chobe island where the ‘grass was greener’.

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Elephant Valley – a place where many happy hours are spent by Elephants and photographers alike.

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The white sand in the bank in the background must have specific minerals which Elephants, antelope and baboons alike seek. The Elephants eat the white sand for its minerals and also rub themselves against the bank. Big and small seek the minerals in the white sand bank.

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This youngster had just been snoozing on the sand path leading down to the water while waiting for the herd at the water’s edge to move off.

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Having had a drink of water using his mouth and as he had not got the ‘trunk thing’ going yet, it was time to go and copy the adults. He was bum rubbing too.

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The young Elephant were very gentle and playful down at Elephant Valley, but there was not much time to linger because other family groups were waiting.

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Each family herd would wait patiently for the one at the water’s edge to finish before coming down to drink. Human beings could learn a thing or two about patience from their ‘big eared’ friends.

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When it is their time to drink, the matriarch confidently leads the family down to the water’s edge.

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Down near Puku Flats, close to where we saw the ‘Lilac display’, a mother and her calf were feasting on the water lily stems. The youngster had so much mud on his face he could hardly see. The youngsters are quite hairy.

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The wonderful thing about the afternoon ‘game drives’ on the river is that they often end slowly.  This gives us photographers time to shoot images in the changing quality and colour of the evening light.

Chobe PM 10-Aug-14 2340

The trick was always to find a point where you could get reasonable perspective on the Elephant so as to get as complete silhouette as possible.

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As the sun progressively sets, the colours in the sky become more saturated making the image more dramatic.

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“Of all African animals, the Elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing – if this must come – seems the most tragic of all. I can watch Elephants (and Elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the Elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another Elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”
Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born

Having had the privilege of watching and photographing these giants along the Chobe river, amongst other places, it is becoming clear that this privilege is in the process of being destroyed for everyone. Double click on the BBC News image for the latest news about the “tipping point for Elephants’.

bbc news

Social media can help create the awareness about what some human beings are doing to our children’s natural heritage. It is only through growing awareness and outrage can this be stopped or at least pushed back into balance. The current rate of Elephant poaching in Africa is pushing them past their tipping point.

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be,

Have fun



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