Ambushed by an Elephant —
When the student is ready the teacher appears.
“I think there’s a leopard waiting for us Rufus,” I said, swinging my camera bag into the truck for a late afternoon game drive. Joseph sat in the spotter seat in front of me. Rufus, our driver and guide, shifted the land cruiser into gear. We rolled down the driveway and bumped over the cattle grid at the gate that kept large animals from entering the fenced area around the lodge.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy covers 251 square kilometers of protected rangeland in Kenya. The open grasslands stretch for miles to the base of Kenya’s tallest mountain, Mt Kenya, whose peaks cut the sky like a row of jagged teeth. Thin bands of forested areas slice into the landscape concealing rivers, streams and villages.
Lewa is renowned for its highly successful conservation of black and white rhinos.
It is also home to the largest single population of Grevy zebras. Grevy’s are distinguished from common zebras by their white bellies and mule sized ears.
Other iconic African wildlife like elephants, lions, giraffes and antelopes also roam the Lewa protected zone. The previous day we caught sight of a leopard in a tree in the gully below our vehicle. “Leopard!” Rufus whispered pointing to the top of a tree. I aimed my camera and fired off a few images. Fortunately, I was ready, the event happened in less than 60 seconds.
The leopard looked up briefly descending the tree then — poof! He disappeared into the tall grass, the tip of his tail proof we’d seen something, then he was gone. We inched down the gully trying to find him — no luck. Leopards are masters of the disappearing act. I’m sure a leopard has seen me many more times than I’ve seen a leopard.
I don’t know if I was feeling lucky or hopeful that evening. Perhaps I hoped saying it out loud would make it happen — I wanted to find that leopard again. Rufus headed towards the forest in the valley. We followed a dirt road until we met a group of three young elephants browsing at the side of the road. Rufus did what any smart driver would do coming across a group of elephants — he stopped. The mammoth teenagers paid us no attention whatsoever. They snapped off branches and stuffed their faces like hungry teenagers at an all night buffet. One young bull decided the front of our truck was the best place to park himself as he nonchalantly fed on nearby grass and bushes.
We watched in silence, careful not to startle the elephants. The evening meal continued like we didn’t exist. The light began to fade. As I sat listening to the sounds of the rip, tear, munch, munch of the elephants chewing, another sound caught my attention. I heard bones cracking. Elephants don’t eat bones. I leaned forward and whispered, “Rufus, Joseph, do you hear that?” We strained to listen and differentiate the evening sounds. “I think there is a hyena in the bushes,” I mouthed pointing over my left shoulder. The three of us craned our necks to try and find where the sound was coming from. The elephant would not be distracted and remained firmly parked in front of us.
Finally, the young bull slowly inched to the sidelines, enjoying the grass along the shoulder of the road beside me. He was in no hurry. It was like he was determined to keep us stuck there on the road. At last, he stepped far enough onto the verge that Rufus dared to start the engine. He slowly drove up the road and did a 3-point turn returning to the exact location. Now we could ascertain that the sound of crunching of bones was above us.
We looked up — hidden amongst the branches, a large male leopard was enjoying his evening meal!
Rufus backed up a few feet so I could zoom in on the spotted Houdini. We watched in amazement in the fading light as the leopard devoured his meal.
I realized that without the elephant’s presence we would have driven by and never seen that leopard. It took the elephant’s persistent resistance, before I noticed anything outside the close circle around the truck. It took time to let go of the thought of the destination and allow the here and now to reach me. I credit that elephant with a significant life lesson — slow down, be calm, watch/listen for the signs. I believe there is much going on around me that I often miss. Elephants are known for being able to communicate over vast distances. Perhaps that youngster heard my wish that night and was happy to fulfil my dream. He was a helper not a roadblock. It’s worth considering how often I mistake helpers as roadblocks … Helpers come in all forms, — that’s one of many lessons I’ve learned from elephants. Enjoy more Heartfelt Stories on my weekly blog.
One of the silver linings of the past year was COVID’s forced slow down. When I pause, breathe in, breathe out, I am more present in the here and now. I’m grateful to the elephant teacher who showed me that sometimes my dreams are present and all I need to do is shift my focus to notice.