Thursday, October 27, 2011

Elephants, up close and personal

On safari with Karen, continued ~ 

In Maasai Mara, we saw dozens of elephants (called ndovu or tembo in Swahili). I have a warm affection for those colossal creatures because they’re family-oriented, relational, and capable of emotion.

When an elephant dies, its relatives bury it, shed tears, and audibly mourn. Elephants also mourn if taken from their families and put in a zoo or a circus.

Because of their strong emotional attachment to family, especially to their young, elephants can be dangerous. They have killed many people and left survivors with gruesome wounds.

Take Carl Akeley, for example, a prominent big-game hunter in Africa in the early 1900s. He was hunting elephants for the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit in New York when, in the words of Douglas J. Preston,

“While Akeley was stalking an old bull elephant on the slopes of Mt. Kenya, the elephant unexpectedly charged him. Akeley’s gun jammed, and in a matter of seconds the old bull was on top of him. Akeley … grabbed each tusk in his hands and swung down on the ground between them. The elephant sank his tusks into the earth, pressed his curled-up trunk against Akeley’s chest, and then whipped the trunk across his face, slicing open Akeley’s cheek and breaking his nose. Akeley lost consciousness as the elephant continued to drive its tusks into the earth. (Had the tusks not struck an underground obstruction, Akeley would have been crushed.) The Africans fled from Akeley, thinking he was dead, and he lay unconscious for four or five hours. He finally revived, and spent three months in the bush (there was no nearby hospital) recuperating from punctured lungs and broken ribs.” (from Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the Museum of Natural History, by Douglas J. Preston) 

Akeley “ … survived with … a scalp nearly torn off, and a cheek slashed open to reveal his teeth” (Worlds to Explore: Classic Tales of Travel and Adventure from National Geographic).  

When Dave, Karen, and I visited Maasai Mara, one day our driver crept too close to a mother elephant and her baby. She charged, flapped her ears, lifted her trunk, and let loose a shrill trumpet sound.

We knew she was serious so we backed off.

Here’s a page from my scrapbook:

You might remember Elsen Karstad’s exquisite photography from one of my earlier blog posts, I close my eyes and see Africa’s animals the way God created them—perfect, wild, and innocent.

Here are a couple of elephant pictures Elsen took in Maasai Mara. Click on these links:


  1. Elephants are amazing, aren't they? On my last safari before returning to the States, we enjoyed watching a family of elephants bathing in the river. That was a treat! You've heard the story of the Kenyan translator that God protected from a charging elephant, haven't you? If not, get our mutual Facebook friend, Dorothea, to tell you. It's amazing!

  2. Hi, Leanna, you must have hundreds of special memories (and photos) from your years in Africa, both Zaire and Kenya. Where did you see the elephants in the river? Maasai Mara? Amboseli? Or...?

    Is Dorothea's story about David Diida? I wrote about him in "Grandma's Letters," and think I'll write about him in my next post, but perhaps you're referring to another man. I get scared out my my wits just trying to imagine what such an experience must have been like!

    Great to hear from you, sweet Leanna! :)


  3. These animals fascinate me. And I think it's utterly amazing that they can form such emotional attachments with each other. All of creation mirrors the heart of the Creator. I just love this.

  4. I agree, Rhonda. That's why I have such fondness for elephants. Sure, they're dangerous when protecting their children, but aren't we all?!