“A MALE AFRICAN ELEPHANT STANDS JUST 2ft IN FRONT OF US, DOUBLE OUR HEIGHT. IT HAS US FROZEN ON THE SPOT, NOT WITH FEAR BUT WITH AWE”
Matt Krumins Photography Travel
This moment is incredibly humbling. A male African elephant stands just 2 feet in front of us, double our height. It has us frozen on the spot, not with fear but with awe. His trunk hangs thicker than my torso just centimetres from my camera lens as I look him in the eye. If you’ve never experienced these animals up close I can tell you right now, there is more soul in those big black eyes than any other creature I’ve seen. All is calm as he continues to chew at the bush along the Marloth Park fence line. This is a moment Laura and I have been waiting so many years to experience.
For the past few days we have been on safari with Dillon, a guide who owns ‘My Africa Safari’. From dawn until dusk we have been experiencing incredible encounters with the elephant population at Kruger, a mix of families by the roadside and great herds traversing the ridges separating the misty valleys. We’ve been dumbstruck at the size of these elephants which in many cases stood eye to eye with us in our raised safari truck making them taller than the vehicle. But this experience is different. Standing on the ground with a simple strip of electric fence between us gives the true scale and an indescribable personal connection. The park around us is silent with the exception of the birds nestling in as the sun starts to set and here we are, not another human to be seen.
The texture of the elephants skin has me fixated. It reminds me of the dry cracking dirt of the desert, creating an endless maze of miniature canyons with the dried mud clad all over his body adding a matte finish protecting him against the sun. As kids, books depict the elephants trunk lazily swinging limp in front of it, a soft, cuddly appendage but as we watch, this incredible muscle mass wraps around branches stripping them bare without even a flinch from the woody thorns that would leave a human bleeding violently. Everything movement is performed with such grace, every motion seeming slow and calculated building on the tranquility of this beautiful place. This is certainly not the first elephant we have seen this week but it’s the first time we have stood face to face on the ground.
Over our stay at Kruger we have been lucky enough to have seen hundreds of elephants and it has me wondering about their numbers. Back at home in Australia I feel like I’m constantly being told they are critically endangered yet here in the park they are seemingly in plague proportions to the point I’m told they have even done some culling? Dillon answers me simply, “they were critically endangered…and they will be again”. He explains the problem was that elephant poaching went out of style as anti-elephant-poaching stepped up but it was quickly replaced by rhino poaching. “It’s a war zone here at night” he says. It makes sense, move your resources to protecting one species and it opens an easier opportunity with another. The problem being that the rhino numbers are dwindling fast, much faster than we can likely comprehend and then he says, “when they run out of rhinos it will be straight back at the elephants”.
Looking deep into the elephants eyes there is no fear, no hate, no desire to harm. There is a connection, an acknowledgement of each others presence, much like you would nod your head with a smile to a stranger as you pass them in the street. Who could ever bring themselves to harm an elephant? What kind of soulless person could look such innocence in the eye and extinguish it’s life? It’s a somber thought but one that is important to acknowledge. I grip my camera knowing that there is no value in me snapping away these photos and sharing them with you if it can’t empower you to help make a change. A change that will mean in years to come these photos won’t be necessary because if we band together these elephants will still be around to show your kids and your grandkids the real deal, in the wild, and to experience the same tingle down their spine as I do right now. I want to live in a future where elephants are not just photos from the past but friends in the present.