Kenya

Tales From The Field: Elephants!

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I went on my first trip to Kenya in January of 1999 to participate in an Earthwatch Institute-sponsored project studying lake ecology at Lake Naivasha. But first I arranged to spend five days in the Masai Mara at what was then called Camp Kicheche. I arrived incredibly jet-lagged from the long flights from California but was also equally excited to finally see African wildlife in their native habitats.

The photo at the top is my first sighting of wild African elephants. a family group moving into the bush. My driver, Daniel, stopped the car and turned off the engine. I had the car to myself. He had the hatch was open and the windows rolled down so I could get good photos. At this point I was using a Nikon N2000 SLR with a built-in motor drive (first time I’d had one with that), a Tamron 28-300mm lens and 2x doubler. and had brought 78 rolls of Kodak 200 and 400 ASA print film.  Not a “pro” set up but pretty good for what we could afford.

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The rest of the family group appeared, saw us, turned and headed away out of sight. And I thought that was it for my first elephant experience. Closer would have been great, but at least I’d seen some, and early in my first game drive on my first day, so no complaints.

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But, no, two reappeared with one looking straight at us.

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Then they started down the slope towards us….

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The smaller of the two turned and walked away into the bush.

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The big one came on down the hill towards the car, which as you will recall, was sitting with the hatch and windows open. I kept taking photos as he got closer and closer.

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Full zoom-in on this wonderful creature. At this point, Daniel said in a low tone of voice “It would be good to be quiet now”. Oh, right. The motor drive. So I set the camera in my lap as the elephant came closer and closer, straight towards the car. I realized that he was so tall that he could have rested his chin on the roof of the Land Cruiser. Or reached in and plucked me right out of my seat through the hatch. At that moment I became a fatalist. Whatever was going to happen would happen and there wasn’t a thing to be done about it. At about six feet from the front of the car, he turned and crossed in front of us on a diagonal. Daniel and I just quietly sat and watched him.

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Once past the car he turned and went back up the slope to rejoin the group, stopping just for this instant to give us one last look.

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Business attended to and, point made, he walked off into the bush.

 

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