Spring in Mashatu in September is fresh but not cold. The sun rose around 6h00 so we needed to be on the vehicle heading out into the game reserve before sunrise.
“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.”~ Leonora Carrington
After about half an hour of driving, the sun had risen but was hidden behind the dawn clouds. The bush was quiet and so were we as we came upon a small family group of elephants which were fast asleep. One mother was lying on the slope of a natural drainage ditch with her year old calf directly behind her.
After watching her quietly for a few minutes she woke up and ‘groggerly’ got to her feet.
Shortly after the calf’s mother had risen the sound on the gravel must have woken the calf. The mother looked half asleep for about 10 minutes after having woken. It did not take the calf long to find its mother’s milk and start suckling. Progressively the other members of the family started rising.
“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate the very finest traits of human behaviour – empathy, self-awareness and social intelligence. But they way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behaviour.” ~ Craydon Carter
Later in the morning we found another herd which was making its way slowly down to the Majale river. This was a herd of females with their calves.
It was very dry so most of the bushes were crisp. The elephants were using their feet to dig out roots and rhizomes. They were also eating the bark of many of the bushes that still looked alive. The youngsters are always inquisitive – beyond survival.
The serenity and harmony of the scene with the elephant herd wandering by in the soft spring morning light was something which instils a deep sense of peace and balance in your soul.
The calves were never far from their mothers’ side unless they were off sparring with the other calves in the herd. Usually the calves were on the opposite side of their mothers to us, which is their natural protective instinct.
“Ask any guide what are you more afraid of at night on foot in the bush, a lion or an elephant. The answer is emphatic, a female elephant. She is dead quiet. Her eyes do not reflect and she is fiercely protective.” ~ Mike Haworth
Another herd, another morning. The matriarch was leading her herd down to the Majale river. I always find it remarkable that these elephants trust us enough to walk close by in single file. They obviously watch us carefully but regularly they will walk within a few metres of us.
“If you have been brutally broken but still have the courage to be gentle with others then you deserve a love deeper than the ocean itself.” ~ Nikita Gill
On our last morning, we had an exceptional sighting of a cheetah chasing down a steenbok, however, some guests on another game vehicle close to the kill scared the young cheetah away, which was very disappointing. This, however, was good fortune for a black-backed jackal which was close to the kill scene and enjoyed the unexpected rewards. After all the excitement, we drove down to the river to look for a place to stop for coffee. We stopped at a regular lookout point on a high bank above the Majale river. The river was essentially dry but for the very last small ponds of water. This was inevitably a gathering place for all the wildlife.
Often late in the dry season the last pools of water are stagnant and the elephant prefer to dig in the riverbed for water which seeps into the hole they dig, as it is cleaner. These “diggings” are life savers for much of the wildlife.
We were watching the elephants and impala from about 400 metres away, so we got off our vehicle and had a cup of coffee with muffins while watching the comings and goings around the remaining small pools of water.
It is times like this that you have to pinch yourself. You realise that you are witness to one of the miracles of the natural world – intelligence applied with peace and consideration.
“Inside us lies every possibility that is available to a sentient being. Every darkness, every light. It is the choices we make that decide who or what we will be.” ~ Charles de Lint
After the terrible times at the turn of the century around the abuse of Northern Tuli elephant calves, Mashatu has always been a sanctuary for elephants where they are cherished and protected.
We have have much to learn from these sentient beings. We will provide sanctuary and protect these beings regardless of the misunderstandings of the east.
“We do not have to be ashamed of what we are. As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds. These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless, we have soil good enough to cultivate; we can plant anything in it.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike