My mate and I were on a business trip from Johannesburg to Zimbabwe some thirty-five years ago, and we were heading down a partly-tarmacced road in a Game Park, en route to the Hwange power station. My mate was driving, and I was slouched against the passenger side door, arm out and trying to catch a breeze. We were driving along, a wide stretch of grass to the right, and fairly thick dry bush to the left. We saw a big bull elephant standing by a large tree to our right, and my mate just had to stop and take a photo. I tried to argue that it wasn’t perhaps the best idea to stop some thirty-odd yards from five-odd tons of very unpredictable wild animal, but Sarel had to get his camera out.
Now a short lesson in elephant behaviour is now due, as I later discovered. The big lone elephant is called an ‘Askari’, or sentry, and he stands guard at a distance from the females and calves who move together for safety. If he senses or sees danger, he tells that herd that they must be aware, and then faces the threat himself. If you have ever seen an elephant close up when he is really, really annoyed, you get the message really, really fast!
His head came up, his large ears flapped forwards, his trunk commenced waving, he trumpeted his annoyance, and then one of his forelegs came up, ready to charge. My mate Sarel still had his bloody camera out of the window, trying to focus his picture through the eyepiece. I literally pulled him back inside the car, and shouted, “Reverse, reverse; you bloody idiot!” We shot backwards for about seventy yards before we slowed down and stopped.
The big ‘Askari’ elephant, point firmly made, trumpeted once more, and some twenty elephants and calves slowly moved across the road to join the big elephant who now stood firmly at the edge of the road, mollified by our removal from his line-of-sight to the herd, which of course we didn’t even know was there until his alarm sounded. Once all these huge animals crossed over and moved away into the wide grassland, we started up once more and drove quietly onwards towards our destination; luckier than some who didn’t move fast or far enough so that another elephant might not be worried.