Oct 12, 2017

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Stories Behind the Photos: “In The Company of Giants” (December 30, 2015)

Posted in : stories on by : Mike Willis

Today I found myself thinking back to a particular moment during my trip to Botswana in late December 2015. On this trip I was staying for about a week, splitting my time between two safari camps, Kanana Camp and Shinde Camp. I was very preoccupied with seeing big cats on this trip, and I had very good luck on the first day of my arrival, seeing a group of mother lions and their cubs at a kill. That’s a story for another day though!

After three nights at Kanana, it was time for me to move on to Shinde. After a morning safari drive at Kanana, my guide, Owner, took me to the airstrip where we waited for the small plane to arrive which would take me on to Shinde. I love flying in these small planes because of the amazing view you can see from their cruising altitude of roughly 4,000 feet. By this time in my safari I had become a bit disappointed in the lack of cats over the past day or so (the lions were the first, and so far, only cats I had seen on this trip). I have to point out that Kanana camp itself was beautiful, and the staff and guides there were great! Regardless, I was preoccupied with cats, so I couldn’t help but hope that I would be able to see some at Shinde.

Upon arriving at Shinde I met Bonolo, who would be my guide for the next few nights there. I told Bonolo how much I was hoping to see cats, and he told me that Shinde had been struggling with cats lately (my heart sank!), but that he would try his best to find them, as well as show me as much as he could of what Shinde had to offer.

Bonolo’s plan for that afternoon’s safari drive was perfect, and it really lifted my spirits! He spent time driving around, showing me the different landscape at Shinde. It turned out that Shinde camp had had a wildfire a few weeks prior, which cleared out dead underbrush and allowed new grass to grow. As a result, the scenery was very green and beautiful, and the wildlife had taken notice, as the fields were literally filled with animals. Wildebeest, warthogs, zebras, impalas, a beautiful family of ostriches (mom, dad, and chicks!) and more were all around us.

But the moment that came back to me today was when we saw a small group of elephants. Bonolo brought the truck alongside them, and they were about 300 feet away. It was a group of a couple of mother elephants, and a few young ones of varying age and size. They all noticed our arrival and looked at us warily. Bonolo turned off the engine and we sat very still, quietly watching the group to see how they would react to us.

The mother elephants led their young in a diagonal approach toward our truck, eating grass here and there while moving. Slowly but surely they came closer, always keeping an eye on us. Eventually the group walked directly in front of us, maybe one or two car lengths in front of the truck, and then continuing away to our left. We watched without saying a word as they calmly walked past us.

I’ve thought about that moment many times since that day. The mother elephants were huge, I’m sure each was easily strong enough to flip over our truck if she didn’t like something about us, or if she felt we were threatening the young ones. Or they could have chosen to simply walk away from us, never approaching any closer than they were when we first parked.

Instead, they chose to walk directly in front of us.

I’ve always felt it was a great privilege to have been granted permission to be so close to them. The choice was entirely theirs, and they allowed us to be in their presence. They showed trust in us that we wouldn’t attempt to harm their young, and Bonolo showed trust in them by turning off the engine to give them quiet passage.

This moment in the company of a family of peaceful giants has become just one of the many lasting memories I have of Botswana.

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