Elephant la bas! John-Noel, our driver exclaimed shortly after turning off primary route onto the route “bord de mer”, a dry season track mostly inundated with water at this time. Bord de mer lies between the Boume’ Boume’ River and Mokoko, halfway to Moungagara on the Nyanga River.
I missed the elephant trying to peer through a mud-splattered windshield, but once the Land Rover slid to a stop, I piled out with camera and binoculars, spotting the lone male foraging on a distant savanna about 500 meters west. He was alongside a tiny gallery forest slowly approaching the edge of continuous forest to the West. The surf beyond created an undulating swish in the background beneath the light coastal breeze. Several grey parrots whistled and gargled high overhead, intent on some destination to the south and a pair of egrets disturbed by the Land Rover circled lazily over the marecage before me. Wasting no time, I began running across the open savannas, sloshing through several thigh-deep ribbons of maracage, until finally, out of breath, I approached the elephant immediately behind the tiny gallery. Struggling to get control of my breathing, I picked my way quietly through the open water bordering the flooded gallery. Creeping laterally to find an opening, the elephant was now before me at 80 meters slowly padding his way to the forest, stopping often to pick some grasses and douse himself with water from pools along his trail. The sun, low above the treetops, was almost directly in my line of view, and I could see lens flare would be a problem not to mention being illuminated under the spotlight of brilliant sun. Waiting until the elephant turned away, I crawled on hand and knees, balancing my camera out front onto this last savanna until I reached the shadow of treeline, approximately 60 meters from the elephant. My elephant was meandering slowly before me, now approximately forty meters from the forest edge, and, afraid that I would not get a front or side presentation, I smucked several mangabey warning calls hoping he might turn to investigate. No effect, though I likely brought a few mangabeys to attention. Realizing my chance was slipping away, I focussed, checked exposure, scoped a possible escape route behind should this become necessary, and hollered out a “Yo!”
Surprising him to action, he turned sideways for a clear portrait, a yellow eye locking in on my form kneeling on the savanna, then suddenly lurched himself around 180 degrees, presenting his other side as he shuffled quickly, tail held high, into the forest. Collapsing onto the savanna, I listened as the crunch and crackle of vegetation trailed off to silence, swallowing the elephant into a puzzle of leaves and shadow.
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