They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant ~ Bill Murray
And the Chobe River, a vast stretching water system, and it’s adjoining national park, is host to plenty of them. Over 100,000 in fact. It is said that they are the largest elephant population in the whole of Botswana. And all of them fabulous characters. So it’s not surprising I came home with images which would each spark a memory.
“Remember the one with the broken tusk”
“that little one was a star wasn’t he”…
The Place To Be
Elephants are naturally sociable animals. The family unit is precious. Their interactions with the rest of the herd, and even other herds, is pretty well known.
Southern Africa is dry in the winter months. A culmination of several months with little or no rain means that water is scarce. And so the rivers are like your favourite pub on a Friday night. It’s the place to be – whether you are an elephant – or an antelope. Everyone who is anyone goes there. And so you can be sure of a little action at the water’s edge as the day draws to a close.
And that is music to your ears if you are sporting a camera. Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to capture your best ever images of elephants.
The Big Picture
The powder bowl is an area on the Chobe, affectionately named, as it provides as super backdrop of creamy rocks and soft grainy sands.
And the best way to see the wildlife that gathers there is from the river itself.
Huge groups gather at the river’s edge. Adults sucking up the water through their fabulous trunks. Babies, crouching low on their elbows, using their mouths. They will be 6-8 months old before they will learn how to master nature’s own inbuilt drinking straw.
It’s Hot Out There
Despite the low temperatures in the morning and night, it still gets hot during the day. Temperatures of mid to high 30s are not unheard of. If you are a group of elephants in the bush, then seeking out the shade is your best option. And that can be a challenge in itself when you are a large herd. There is something pretty moving to come across a young elephant resting, and the whole herd, tightly packed under a shady tree, standing over the little one, providing protection from the sun. A resting trunk provides reassurance. A precious moment.
A Cooling Dip
Finding a puddle of mud can be a godsend. Apart from helping regulate body temperature, and also acting as a sunscreen, it provides relief from insects too. Isn’t nature clever? Choosing monochrome for this shot also really brings out the texture of the wet mud on this elephant.
Elephants are good swimmers. They are buoyant enough to be able to propel themselves across the river. The Chobe forms the boundary between Botswana and Namibia, along the stretch we were on. No immigration control for these chaps, though!
And when an elephant gets into the water, especially in the golden light before sunset, their wet skin looks like bronze. Even now I just want to reach out and stroke it.
Floating in a specially adapted photo boat gets you down nice and low. And the lower you go, the better the angle. There is nothing quite like looking into the eye of a swimming elephant. at their level.
The Grand Finale
The final act after a good dunk is dusting. Imagine talcum powder for elephants. Without the powder puff. The key thing is to be ready. The sequence is pretty much a given. Swim or wallow – then dust. Because they need the dust to act as a sunscreen.
If enough of them start throwing their talc around, it can provide challenges for getting a good photo. We have brought a few home (images that is, not elephants) which had us scratching our heads. Hazy and fuzzy – it took a while – and looking at the photos in sequence – before we realised we had just been in a dust cloud.
I know, I know. All that professional help and I finish off with this! It might not be technically the best. Okay, there is no might about it. It is really badly composed and the lighting is off too. But, I love it.
I am just imagining Mum saying “okay kids, swim time over. We need to go home now. It’s pizza and a movie night tonight”. And that little one, excited as anything, skipping home. It tells a story.
Thanks to Ann and Steve Toon for inspiring me to be confident and try different things with my camera. You see, nine days in their company saw me change. I started out as a person who was a bit scared of her camera – anxious she wasn’t good enough compared to everyone else on the trip. Now I have learnt to enjoy my photos. Because they are MY photos. They capture the things I saw with my eyes – and in some cases the things I didn’t even know I had seen. They make me laugh, some even make me cry. But most of all, they make me feel incredibly lucky to have experienced all this!
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