Of course I’m writing one of these posts about elephants; though the prolific animal already receives so much attention, I can’t help but feel the need to write about my experience being so close to them in this past week. Before leaving for our expedition to camp outside of Tarangire National Park, we watched a movie on Netflix called The Ivory Game, and I recommend anyone interested in the issue of ivory poaching in Africa give it a view (though, to be warned, it is terribly sad to watch). For a slight, surely botched overview, African elephants are regionally extinct in Northern Africa, with their numbers being very low in West Africa, and most healthy in East Africa as of now. Unfortunately, despite government efforts to conserve the species in countries like Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, poaching of elephants has been a continuous issue in the region. Approximately one elephant every 15 minutes is killed for its ivory. The brave people who work as rangers and soldiers to protect these animals consistently put their lives on the line, a job that sometimes turns fatal as some big-game poachers don’t always restrict their fire to the elephants.
I know it’s a bit depressing to read about human’s hunting of elephants just for the sake of their tusks, but it was really important to have an understanding of how big a blow we as a species have made to elephant populations before spending hours watching and admiring them in the field. At one point, while waiting in our car watching a big 30-elephant family graze in the bushes, a huge male elephant—easily double the size of any of the others in the group—came out from behind a tree and walked across the dirt road. The sheer weight of his steps shook the ground, and even our professor who has hours and hours of field experience with elephants was shocked that we saw such a large male so close. Though it was incredible to see, we all commented how sad it was to know that his size and beauty put a big target on his back. Elephant poaching in Tarangire isn’t a huge issue in comparison to other parks, luckily, but that by no means ensures these elephants safety.
On a lighter note, we passed countless groups of more than 50 elephants grazing, playing in the water, playing with each other, and nursing and it was absolutely incredible. Apparently, we’re here at perfect timing for calving season so I’ve seen at least 100 baby elephants and oh boy are they cute. We watched one struggle for at least 2 minutes to get up off the ground and it was precious. The elephants often huddle in groups around the babies so as to protect them from predators, so seeing the babies out front was real special. We also saw a pack of about six lions try to hunt some of the babies, and as soon as the biggest female charged them and roared, they jumped out from under the cover of thick grass and ran away. I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of Planet Earth, it was amazing.
In case you were too lazy to read, my weekend was full of observing elephants, and I easily saw more than 500 in a matter of just a couple days. I feel so incredibly grateful to be studying these amazing animals, and still cannot believe that I had a graded school assignment to watch and write about them. Not to cheese too much, but life can be really incredible sometimes and our expeditions through Tarangire surely reminded me of that.
As I go to school here, I am learning how to speak Swahili (it’s going slow but that’s what I expected). So as long as I’m learning, I’ll share some here.
Elephant: Tembo (though there are several words for it)
Lion: Simba (yes, like the Lion King)
Impala: Swala Pala
Student: Mwanafunzi (or Wanafunzi for plural)
Sorry that was a bit long, but here are a bunch of photos of the elephants I met this weekend.