For the love of elephants


My little sister was always scared to death by elephants. When we lived in East Africa, many a week-end and all school holidays meant “safari”. A swahili name that just means “trip”. And off we’d go to see lions, cheetahs, giraffes, zebra, gazelles and elephants. And Sis’ would recoil inside the car whenever my father drove too close to a pack of elephants. Or even a lone one. Above: near the most upstream part of the Nile, the Victoria Nile in Uganda, Murchison falls. c. 1969.


Elephant drinking on the Nile. If I recall correctly elephant population in Africa in the late sixties was still over 2 millions. Iain Douglas-Hamilton designed a survey method that evaluated the number of African elephants at 1.3 million in 1979.


By 1989, the number of elephants in Africa had been significantly reduced. I went back to Kenya in 1988, and indeed the herds were much smaller.


Back in ’69, at the lodge near Murchison Falls, a young wild elephant had invited itself to the hotel grounds. This and the following shots were taken from a distance of 15 ft or less. I had a brand new reflex camera and was determined not to miss a shot. πŸ™‚



Intimidation posture. Then the elephant started walking forward to the breakfast terrace.


Passing by. Steady. Steady…


Moving away… With the Victoria Nile in the background. But then a tourist came too close, and the elephant grabbed the yellow Β plastic chair with its trunk and flung it at the tourist. Don’t mess with wild animals….


A solitary elephant approaching the car in Tsavo, Kenya. The elephants there are red, as they spray themselves with the red Tsavo earth to avoid parasites.


Closer, closer….


Come any closer, car or no car, and I will charge…


Elephants care for each other. The one on the left had its trunk practically severed at the root. Possibly a poacher? At any rate that elephant was mortally wounded as he could not use its trunk any more to feed itself. But it was escorted by a friend or relative until it would die.

Elephant population estimates today (well, 2007…) range between 400,000 and 690,000. Shall we say half a million? Down from more than 2 millions. Poaching is the only cause. Poaching for ivory despite the ban on international trade years ago. They say the ivory market is in Asia and China. That might have been true in the last century. But today? Have you seen pictures of Shanghai? I don’t really see any… market for ivory there. Louis Vuitton bags, yes. But Ivory? Research seems faulty and yet the elephant is dying.


A road sign in the sixties on the Nairobi-Mombasa road. The idea was to warn motorists of the dangers of elephant crossing. Some accidents had been reported of an elephant destroying a car or the other. Today, it seems to me the sign should read: “Elephants beware!”

Now, my little sister’s (well-founded) fear of elephants? I wasn’t sure why she would get in such a state until some time ago when I found those old earlier photos, c.1961-1962, on the other, western side of Africa:


There was an orphanage in Conakry, Guinea. Where elephant “babies” whose parents had been killed, were raised. We visited the “baby” elephants. I must have been 6 or 7, my little sister, 4 or 5.


A baby elephant at birth weighs 200 pounds. Those were probably closer to 400-500 pounds.


Conakry, West Africa. c. 1961-1962. Yours truly absolutely fascinated. (Do note the white socks) Little sister safely tucked away behind our mother, and deciding she did not like elephants. πŸ™‚

Thank you for flying Equinoxio. Save the elephants!

70 thoughts on “For the love of elephants

  1. I mean the bottom ones. Those further up are less cute, and NOT little! The sign reminds me of entering Gorongosa many years ago β€” I laughed to see their ‘Beware of Elephants’ sign, and remarked, ‘Now, that’s good advertising! Probably not one for miles!’ We turned the next corner, and there was a herd of them across the road.

  2. Love it. I encourage all the work so many people are doing these days to save elephants and rhinos. Prince William even has done a lot. I hope it will all make an impact because what a tragedy to lose something so precious.

  3. Poor creatures! Man has no respect for life, sometimes even for their own. 😦

    It’s OK to be scared of wild life, they usually are scared too and act on instinct or they’re just predators. Your sister was playing it safe, is all. πŸ™‚

    I wish man would just stay within their boundaries and let wild life live in their own habitats. Watch them, help them if neccessary but don’t kill them for pleasure or money or fame. That’s plain sick!

    • It is plain sick. One of the greatest pressures on wildlife in Africa (and Asia too) is demographic explosion. So human territories for cultivating expand and natural habitat is destroyed. A shame.

      • Well, they keep saying we’re too many (humans) on this Earth and they’re trying hard to cut the numbers down by any possible means. On the other hand they keep expanding man’s territories pushing back wildlife until they have no more place to go and start getting out in the streets, villages and so on.

        Just these days there’s been an incident in one of our cities where a brown bear cub got lost, scared, climbed up the roofs and ultimately they shot him dead saying “they couldn’t tranquilize him”. Many people say that’s a lie, as well as the age of the cub being officially set at 4-5 years old while people that witnessed the scene or saw videos say he was much younger.
        Brown bear is protected by some international treaty and still those in charge act like back in the wild west. 😦

        A blogger friend that lives in that city wrote an article about that, she told about her childhood when they used to play in the woods or at the edge of it and the bears never bothered them, they would just mind their own business. When man expanded their territory into bears’ habitat, destroying the woods, bears started coming to the city, scouring through garbage looking for food because they had little means of survival. And so human “civilization” started clashing with wildlife, incidents happened, people got injured or killed and there you go: “let’s kill the animals, they’re dangerous, they’re killers”. Same old story. 😦

  4. Splendid post. I don’t remember if it’s elephants or tigers that are used in ‘traditional medicine’, but thinking that we’re losing such splendid animals to provide placebos to cure some Chinese’s erectile issues is, well, bewildering.

    • Ivory is the doom of elephants. Lion bones are used in “traditional” medicine (and rhino horns… And yes, it is bewildering. Or underwhelming as a friend of mine would say.

  5. Thanks for posting the link to these photos Brian. My mum loved them. I did, too. You have lead a very varied and interesting life. It is so sad about the declining wild animal populations around the world. We are a stupid species to allow this to happen.

  6. Pingback: My Lord Buddha and the elephant | Equinoxio

  7. More incredible photos and memories. I envy you living there. We have only been to Africa twice, both times we self drove and the only times we got in any sort of predicament was due to people. We got charged by an elephant in musk on a solo game drive with a ranger who antagonized him with his vehicle. He pulled out a rifle to shoot him when we reached the end of the dirt road, but the elephant understood humans and stopped the charge. All our self touring was wonderful. Respecting wild animals and their space works wonders.

    • We were lucky to live in Africa, West and East in the sixties. Still very close to… origins. And not as violent as now…
      Some rangers can be a bit crazy. Now in theory most elephant charges are of intimidation. Having said that my little sister was terrified of elephants. She never liked it when we were too close to them.
      And self driving is good option.
      Which places did you go in Africa and when? 2015 and?

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