Most game lodges in South Africa outside the Kruger Park are not fenced so that wild animals can wander in and out as they please. This means that there is always a chance of close encounters between man and beast.
When guests arrived at the lodges I worked in I would always warn them of the dangers of approaching the animals in the camp, be it an antelope, warthog or elephant, unfortunately many guests felt the need to get that up close and personal video footage that they had seen on National Geographic Channel, not realising that generally the footage for these documentaries was filmed with cameras with mega-zoom lenses. Often one of the staff would have to drag a guest away while they were trying to get that close up of an elephantâs eye-lash with their little handy cam or even worse, with their cellphone camera.
Personally I donât like getting too close to wild animals whilst on foot, you invade their space and they feel threatened and either run away or attack. I prefer to view them from a safe distance, where I can step into a building or onto a vehicle should they choose to move towards me.
One day, when all the guests were out on safari, I stayed in the lodge to relax before their return. I was standing outside my house talking on my mobile (modern technology has reached parts of wildest Africa) when a single bull elephant wandered through the garden.
I watched as he plucked small branches off the acacia trees and popped them into his mouth, thorns and all. When he was about twenty yards from me he stopped feeding and turned to look at me. I continued talking, telling the person on the other end of the phone and stuck in a city, what was happening.
He then started walking towards me; strangely I didnât feel at all threatened, as I knew all I needed to do was take one step backwards through the door into the safety of my house. He came right up to me and stretched out his trunk and began sniffing me. I could have reached out and touched him and could feel the hot breath from his nostrils as he passed his trunk less than a foot from my face. I hardly moved a muscle but turned the phone slightly so the person I was talking to could also hear the sound.
He stood in front of me for about a minute before he took a step back, shook his head and walked off, leaving me exhilarated. I had experienced an unforgettable moment that so few would ever have the privilege of experiencing.
I still wonât deliberately walk up close to any wild animal (and continue to believe that to do so is both reckless and irresponsible), however in this particular case I feel that I did not invade this elephantâs space (other than being one of many humans who had invaded his land and enclosed him in a park which would forever restrict his movement) â he approached me in a non-threatening manner, maybe curious about this human talking to a tiny black brick in his hand. I like to think that I was greeted by an elephant!