Assala elephants

Arriére-arriére! Vite! Stacey whispered nervously as first one, then another, finally six elephants burst from the forest edge onto savanna 30 meters before us.

We hardly knew they were coming. A wisp of breeze through the leaves at the edge of the forest suggested something was passing through, but I was thinking more of a bird surprised or a monkey leaping through the canopy. We backed cautiously along the trail, hoping our scent wouldn’t suddenly surprise the herd.

A herd of elephants, small in stature, cross a narrow savanna south of Loango National Park. The largest stops to sample the air currents, likely carrying our scent.

A herd of elephants, small in stature, cross a narrow savanna south of Loango National Park. The largest stops to sample the air currents, likely carrying our scent.

The elephants were small, with what appeared to be overly large ears. Tiny tusks barely protruded from the largest of the animals. Stacey referred to them as Assala elephants, the mysterious pygmy elephants thought to inhabit some of the forests in the southeast wilderness of Gabon. It has been said that they are a separate sub-species of elephant. Particularly aggressive, they are unpredictable and prone to attack more readily than other elephants. Others assert that the aggressive individuals are merely sub-adult males of the typical forest species of elephant, more irritable and more agile than the elders. In any case, we were outnumbered two to one, and decided to back off until the herd had moved across the narrow savanna, meandering into nearby forest.

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