BBC Wildlife Magazine
Fancy bumping into you
In Botswana, Chuck Graham had two close encounters with the same elephant but didn’t exactly endear himself to it.
The elephant did a 180, ears flared, head tossing, trunk raised like a king cobra.
It’s amazing how stealthy an African elephant can be, but once they meld into the forest, they are efficient at ghosting.
One late afternoon, while photographing wildlife in Savuti, Botswana, I accidentally walked right into the derriere of a tusker. Responding to my clumsiness, the elephant did a sudden 180, ears flared, head tossing, trunk raised like a king cobra. Its right tusk was broken almost to the nub, the left one completely broken.
I froze, then ran out of the trees and back to the tented camp. Another visitor happened to film my sprint to safety – until the elephant, caught up in the pursuit, knocked his camera clean over. Soon, the tusker gave up the chase and went back to the forest.
That night, a full moon brightened the acacia and sausage trees. At 4am, when it was still dark, I awoke to what I thought was a torrential downpour. As I came to, I realised that the moon was still shining. So where were the big drops, raining down onto my tent, coming from?
I caught some subtle shifts in a silhouetted mass outside. It was unmistakable – an elephant, shaking the living daylights out of a sausage tree, then using its trunk to sweep the pods from the roof of my tent to the ground, from where it could enjoy the feast. I lay in bed, the elephant’s trunk waving like a magic wand beside my head – the mesh of the tent between us.
That’s when I noticed its tusks, or lack of. Could it be the individual from the afternoon before? I managed to get a closer look – it was the very same.
The lure of sausage-shaped fruit seemed to be playing on its enormous appetite, and the elephant moved to the other side of the tent for another shake of the tree.
By this time, it was 5.30am and it was getting light. The commotion had woken the entire camp, who were all having a good laugh from their surrounding tents. Concerned that the tusker might squash my fragile abode, I made a move for the exit while the elephant delivered another, particularly hard, shake to the tree.
Its derriere looked all too familiar, and this time, when the elephant wheeled around, it let out a trumpet. I guess no chase was required, but it let me know it was there.