EMOTIONS RUNNING WILD

On the 15th of October 2019, I was staying at Mwinilunga safaris in Mana Pools. As I did every day, I got up at 4, made myself a coffee and went on my game drive in search for animals in that beautiful morning light. Normally I would look for the African wild dogs or lions first, because they are more active in the early morning. But that morning, for some reason, I saw tiny baby elephants everywhere, so I decided to stick with the elephants. I remember thinking that a lot of those babies were probably born in the last couple of days.

I was happy to see the moms munching on the hay. The drought this year was so severe, that there was hardly any food left on the floodplains. The animals need the water from the Zambezi, so they have no choice but to stay close to the water. VAWZ decided to raise money through donations to bring in much needed food for the starving animals. And it was working. The elephants, the zebra, buffalo, waterbok, eland,… they were surviving on the hay. We also brought in other food like horse pellets, cattle blocks and lucern. Without that food, most of the animals would have died for sure. All the touroperators pitched in and distributed the food over the park. Without the help of those wonderful people, the drought would have taken a much bigger toll.

Lunch

After a nice morning, I returned to camp. We had a wonderful lunch, as always – Tess is the best cook of Mana Pools! I downloaded the pictures I took that morning, something I learned to do every day, because you never know what you may encounter. And boy was I glad I did!

Commotion

After I had just placed my camera’s with empty cards back in the car, I went for a coffee. There are always elephants around camp who come to eat and drink during that time of day, and it is always a treat to just watch them. Suddenly there is a commotion. An elephant cow is kicking something in the dust. At first we couldn’t figure out what it was, maybe a warthog? Fighting over food? But then we saw it! The cow had just dropped her baby!

I ran to the car to get my cameras. My heart was beating wildly. I couldn’t believe it! Can you imagine a wild elephant giving birth in a camp with people? Can you understand how trusting and how safe she must feel to do such a thing? The baby was still in the amniotic sac. His mother was pushing with her legs against it to rub the sac off the little one.

What an experience!

I went straight on the ground, with my two cameras in front of me. One camera for close ups, the other for a wider view. Panting, sweating, lying in the dust, for over an hour I didn’t stop shooting. The skin of my elbows was feeling raw, my back was aching, my neck was burning, but I couldn’t care less. Pictures of such an amazing experience top any physical discomfort.

Trying to get on his feet

As soon as the mother removed the amniotic sac, the baby tried to get on his feet. For more than an hour he struggled. The legs were still bent, so he first had to learn how to stretch them. Then the balance, that was a tough one! I could not stop laughing when he was trying to stay on his feet like a little drunk. But finally he did it! And his older sibling was very supportive!

The other elephants

While I was documenting all this, there were other people in camp, who decided they had seen enough. So they went on a game drive to see ‘other stuff’. I could not believe it! They missed out big time…

The other elephants around camp, had been keeping their distance. But now suddenly another cow came towards the baby who was just standing on it’s feet. Strangely enough the mom gave way. And then the cow started pushing the baby! He was screaming, in shock! He fell multiple times, and every time he got back to his feet, she pushed him again. Finally, after a while, his mom stepped in and chased the cow away. I have never heard of behaviour like that, and couldn’t believe it. Normally the cows would welcome a baby in the herd. Maybe it had to do with the drought. Another mouth to feed… Anyway, the mom and his sibling cornered him in between the branches of a fallen down tree, to protect him from other unwanted company. When things settled down, mom went to drink and the baby took his first mudbath.

Learning to drink

After the mudbath, mom dusted herself and fed on the hay. Then the baby was trying to drink, but had no clue where to find the breast. He tried on every part of his moms body. She was trying to guide him with her trunk, but he clearly had a mind of his own. Her behind seemed much more appealing! Finally, at about 3 hours old, he drank for the first time. What a relief I felt. I was concerned because he seemed so tiny and it was above 45°C.

That whole afternoon they stayed in our camp. When the sun was setting, mom with her newborn and her older calf walked into the forest. I decided to get in my car, and see if I could get a nice sunset picture at the river. On the way I saw her walking in my direction, so I stopped the car and she came to show her calf to me. They stopped right next to the car. The emotions that go through you when something like that happens, are indescribable. A feeling of utter happiness, calmness, and understanding takes over. Elephants have a way of making you understand everything, and I always feel so grateful when I am allowed into their world. Mana Pools is one of the few places where you can experience this to the fullest. When they walked on, I went to the river, and got my last sunset picture.

Want to experience the elephants of Mana Pools yourself? It’s possible! Click here for info about the photography tour to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe 2020.

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