March 2008. It was hot! About 32 degrees and no wind at all. The region we were driving through was dry and dusty. We were on route to Shingwedzi camp and it was around 3 pm.
We needed to keep going at a steady pace if we were going to make camp before the gates close…
On the Old Main Road loop there was nobody else on the road. We had spotted a couple of elephants at the waterhole and were baking in the heat. The road was dirt and the shrub quite thick and close.
This made spotting quite difficult and the sun was keeping the wildlife in the shade – or so we thought…
In the distance, we saw a large shape coming down the road in front of us, at a leisurely pace. As the haze cleared we could make out an elephant sauntering down the road. And he looked pretty big.
As we got nearer we could see him flapping his ears and flicking dust into his face and eyes with his trunk. It seemed like strange behaviour to us amateur game spotters… When he started filling the windscreen we decided to pull to the side and let him pass.
Rather let the guy keep walking, and we could resume our journey to the camp. As we parked-up and took some pictures, the elephant got bigger and bigger.
As he approached us he stopped. Looking straight at us, he shook his head – like we were interfering on his turf. We decided to back up and give him some room, thinking he would head off the road soon and into the trees… But he kept on coming.
Down the middle of the road at the same leisurely pace. He ´chased´ us back a couple of kilometres. The problem was that we had to find a way to get past – we didn’t have time to drive all the way around the loop again.
We finally found a disused service road and backed into it about 50 metres. The plan was to let him walk on by and then get back on our way. What happened next was freaky (to us at least).
The elephant came down the main road and we thought he would just walk on by – after all we were a good couple of metres off the main road. This was round about when the camcorder ran out of battery… This guy was really curious about us I guess.
He came straight for the car (a black Nissan X-trail – looks like a rhino?) cutting through the trees. He stopped in front of us and once again shook his huge head. I had the engine running and reverse gear engaged, ready to floor it backwards.
But we told each other to remain absolutely still. Don’t move… He stood there staring into the car at us. Sizing us up? Trying to figure out what we were?
After an eternity (two minutes?) he turned and walked back towards the main road. We breathed a sigh of relief and got ready to move off. As he turned onto the road he paused… And turned back toward us!
He slowly walked back in our direction and stopped in front of the car, giant head filling the windscreen. We had no idea what was going on in his mind. He turned and came to the side of the car as if to walk around us. As he moved to the side I floored it and we dashed to the road.
I had no intention of being sat on by a six ton beast. As we got to the road we looked back. No terrifying trumpeting and full speed charge of a crazy animal… Just the elephant, maybe a little bemused, continuing into the bushes.
Who knows what flapping ears really mean? Dust in the eyes? It WAS hot and maybe he was bothered…
Needless to say, we made it to camp before six pm. Hoping not to find another roadblock in our way. Time to read up a bit on elephant behaviour…