By Luke Andrews
I am just back from THE MOST AMAZING Elephant Research session. We saw over 40 elephants in several different locations. Some were even crossing a bridge.
Being an Elephant Research Volunteer with the African Lion Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) has been fantastic. I have been allowed to partake in several different activities, including Snare Sweep, involving walking through the National Park looking for snares, and Lion Research, where I watched the behaviour of a particular lion in ALERT’s pride for one hour.
My favourite activity, however, has to be Elephant Research. This involves driving around the Zambian National Park near Victoria Falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, looking for elephants. The number of elephants that we saw today exceeded all expectations.
The first group we spotted were only discovered due to a tourist bus. Seeing that it had come to a standstill Sara, the Elephant Research Driver and Project Manager, switched off the engine. We immediately heard the sound of snapping branches.
“That’s probably elephants”, said Dabwiso, an Elephant Researcher with ALERT. He leant out of the vehicle for a closer look.
Then, thankfully, the tourist-mobile began to move off.
As we moved slowly down the track, an extraordinary sight greeted us. There were loads of elephants on both sides. It was a struggle to count them. There were mothers with calves and some adolescents.
Sara brought the research vehicle to a standstill at a T-junction so that we could watch.
The elephants continued munching. They gradually meandered across the road to a new patch of vegetation.
“The centre of the group is changing. They are moving across the road”, said Dabwiso.
Then, suddenly, they ran. Ears wide, tails in the air, they rushed back to where they had come from. No human noise could have scared them. There were none.
“They probably saw a snake or bees”, said Dabwiso.
These are elephants two biggest fears. If a bee flys up an elephant’s trunk and stings, it can cause a swelling. This may close the airway and cause the animal to suffocate.
We decided to leave this group and let them relax.
Turning a corner, we encountered another group! These guys were walking across a bridge to avoid the riverbed. They didn’t stop but carried on marching purposefully.
Sara reversed the vehicle. The animals marched right past, tusks and ears in the air. Even the little juveniles had a go. I was a little bit scared, but I suppose that shows how close the animals really were.
Trundling onwards we saw even more elephants! Amongst the Baboons, warthogs and Impala there were several elephants. Large males were intermixed with mothers and their calves.
A group crossed the river upon our arrival, with two large females trying to obscure the youngster. It couldn’t have been more than a year old. It was so small.
It was very lucky to see all these elephants, research sessions aren’t usually like this. I will never forget the fantastic memories from today!
Photo credit: Luke Andrews. Elephants running in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Zambia.