On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This is the seventh post of Botswana’s animals. Today it’s elephants.
My first question to our guide was breathtakingly foolish: “Will we see any elephants up close?” His response was a silent smile. He well knew that by the end of the trip we would have seen hundreds, many within spitting distance. For the most part, they tended to ignore us entirely, focusing on the task at hand: eating.
Elephants only sleep a few hours per day. The rest of the time is spent in search of food and water. They stay cool by getting wet in Botswana’s many rivers and pools, including a few that are maintained by pumps. When sleeping, younger elephants will lie down. Older ones often lean against something to partially support themselves, such as a tree.
Elephants begin growing tusks around their fifth to seventh years. The tusks are essentially elongated teeth, used for digging, moving objects, and defense. It was common to see one with a broken tusk, such as this older one. Our guide offered that tusks are often broken while digging in search of salt.
Mostly due to their enormous size, we were often reminded that elephants could become suddenly dangerous. Signs of possible aggression could include raising the trunk, flapping the ears, and charging us. However, the first two of these behaviors were not necessarily threatening. There was quite a bit of ear-flapping we observed as it also helps the elephant stay cool. This particular one also carries quite a bit of dirt on his ears, another way to beat the heat.
An elephant’s ordinary day is spent in search of food, mostly grasses and leaves. For grasses, the elephant uses its trunk to rip out a clump of grass, swats it back and forth to shake off any dirt and sand, followed by peaceful chewing.
Getting rid of the sand is crucial as it tends to wear down the elephant’s teeth. Elephants have six sets of teeth; when the teeth wear down another set emerges. When the last set of teeth gets worn away, the elephant no longer can sustain itself.
It’s perfectly normal to develop a fascination with elephant wrinkles, yes? I’m certain each one’s wrinkle pattern is unique.
We watched this gentleman for several minutes. Freshly emerged from a pond, he was covering himself with dirt to stay cool. Then he walked along the brushes, eating leaves and grasses. He was so focused on the available food that he almost walked into us, causing the guide to start the engine to move us back. The engine startled the elephant and he moved away.
Standing about 50 feet away, he flapped his ears at us a few times, and then bluff charged, taking a quick step in our direction. He reminded us of his dominance, while not doing any real damage. We heard his message and moved along.
You know how it feels when you take a handful of dirt and toss it over your entire body, and some gets in your eye? So does this sweet fellow.
This one is – I think – a younger female. Certainly she has fewer scarring and intact ears. But she also was one of the few that seemed to be closely watching us. I don’t mean to suggest that the others were unaware of us, just that she kept that brown eye in our direction until we moved on.
Nothing like an afternoon swim to stay cool. This one was part of a group of seven that were crossing a braid of the Chobe River.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, children are mostly kept in the middle of the adults. One benefit of visiting in Botswana’s autumn was that the spring babies were emerging from the groups fairly often, and doing the things that toddlers do….
Such as lying down in the middle of the road. In this instance, the juveniles first tried to rouse the younger one. Those efforts were unsuccessful, so mother’s trunk came down to push the baby along.