As we have already established in my previous posts – elephants are exceptionally social, playful, but also highly protective creatures. In fact, I have personally witnessed their defensive behaviours well before my African travels.
In Sri Lanka, elephants charging our open safari vehicle when threatened was not rare occurrence. Of course, it would be those very moments when the engine would fail to start. I suppose that was just nature’s way of keeping us on our toes.
I look back and laugh now, remembering how the whole thing simply felt like I was reliving an exciting scene from Jurassic Park, minus the plummeting rain and old-school phones. Only now do I actually realise how absolutely dangerous those circumstances would have been. The unpredictability and power of these mighty creatures.
Forgive me for a moment when you’re reading this – I promise I’m not about to delve into a full-blown VCE English essay! – but the manner in which elephants behave is hugely shaped by both their physical and psychosocial environments. They are very similar to humans in this respect.
The renowned phrase, “memory like an elephant,” actually originally came from the fact that elephants have large temporal lobes. For those less excited by neuroscience and anatomy than I, this is the outer or lateral lobe of the brain, which allows us to create long-term memories.
Elephants are renowned for their ability to recognise individuals that they have not seen for prolonged periods. This contributes to their social instincts.
BACK TO BOTSWANA
What I found incredible in Botswana was how absurdly close we were able to marvel at these creatures. KB would drive us right up to herds, and occasionally, we would even find ourselves parked right in the middle of about 200 elephants. (Check out ‘Tip 9’ to read more about KB’s love for these majestic mammals).
However, the clear difference in temperament between the Sri Lankan and African elephants can be attributed to the disparity in the elephant-human relationship in those regions. The elephants in Africa appeared so much more playful, and only occasionally perturbed by the presence of a vehicle in the vicinity. This is thanks to decades of minimal contact with humans, as well as positive experiences due to minimal poaching and land conservation. The elephants are consequently less fearful and more at ease in their natural habitat.
Botswana is renowned for its spectacular wildlife and pristine wilderness areas. It has one of the highest conservation land ratios in Africa, with more than 25% of its land mass being set aside for reserves and parks, so as to preserve the country’s natural heritage. In addition, unlike other African countries, it is actually winning the war against rampant poaching.
Botswana is a peaceful country, and sauve à a small misunderstanding with its northern neighbour, Namibia, regarding a small island in the Chobe river, there are very few instances where its highly-trained military has been employed in an incident of potential conflict.
From an elephant’s perspective, Botswana is a sanctuary. Something that I was so lucky to have been able to witness that perfectly demonstrates this was on a cruise on the Chobe river. This river delineates Botswana and Namibia. Because poaching at night is common in Namibia, Botswana provides these mammals with a safe haven during those vulnerable, dark hours, thanks to the ruthless anti-poaching military. Hence, each evening, the elephants cross the border and traverse the river in single file, using their trunks as snorkels. This formation allows them to help one-another cross, especially the young calves, which are yet to have trunks long enough to reach the water surface at the deeper points of the river. An absolutely incredible sight!
But the magic did not quite end there. Once on the Botswana side, some of the male elephants remained in the river. Fascinated by their own buoyancy, they would comically climb on top of one-another in play. I honestly could not believe my eyes.