Mabuso, a huge bull elephant, watched as the herd meandered, eating and exchanging soft rumbling signals while keeping their calves close.
We were caught up for over an hour in the almost silent sounds of this herd of more than twenty-five elephants. Over and over again, whispers of “wow”, “ooh” and “aah” came pouring out of the safari vehicle. We knew this magical moment was exceptional.
Our safari party was made up of Lodge Owners, Church Leaders, and International Speakers. The night before our elephant sighting in Pilanesberg, the International Speaker had given the Church Leader a gift of a painting she had completed during a conference session. It depicted an elephant with her calf symbolizing the importance of family and the role each member has to play. As each one contributes, the purpose of the unit to live in one accord, is strengthened.
Jacques, our ranger, made this sighting come alive, by explaining the subtle dynamics of this matriarchal community, to which we had been oblivious.
One new mother was throwing sand on herself using her trunk whilst her calf, trying to mimic her/its mentor, quickly gave up as no sand landed on its delightful head. It hurried after the milk supply. (Elephants’ trunks consist of over 40,000 muscles that need to be trained and developed, just like a child learns to use his hands and arms. Sand baths smother parasites and help keep animals cool).
Very aware of Mabuso’s presence and the fact that he was in musk, Jacques backed up the vehicle so as not to come between Mabuso and “his girls” as they crossed the road a few metres in front of us. Understanding “who was who” in this authentic zoo was vital. By reversing we were no threat and could calmly enjoy the last moments of this family dynamic as exhilarating as it was.
I was left with a parable. Each family member has a place to hold: some lead, some follow and some stand their ground. Take your place and enjoy harmony!
On our last night, as we headed back to make safari curfew, there was the whiff of rotting carcass, but no predator visuals. During our three days at the lodge, we had had three sightings of lions, such magnificent cats, each of them in different territories!
Braving the crisp early-morning air for a last game drive, three of us were rewarded for our effort.
We came across a pride of six lions whose bellies were full of last night’s feast (the whiff we had caught the night before). The pride were so stuffed and satisfied that the male urinated as he lay with his eyes half open – the men in the vehicle embarrassed on his behalf.
As we headed back to camp, we came across the next lion sighting, – an impressive male and female drinking at “Pannetjies”. They moved to the next drinking hole, and we followed. The pair began to interact, the female displaying herself to him and then selfishly responding, “No, not this morning, Darling”. They sauntered on, enjoying one final drink then they disappeared into the long grass, as if they had never been there.
We were very glad that we had made the effort to be up before sunrise and then, on the road near Buffalo Thorn Lodge, we saw another lion – the male we had seen on the first day!
He walked, and we travelled with him (in the vehicle) as if we were walking with him. The synchronization surreal – we could almost reach out and touch him. After a beautiful walk down a long straight road, we turned left and he walked straight. We said our quiet goodbyes and parted company. A perfect beginning and end to a four day safari.
The spirited family of the stately Mabuso and his girls, as well as the numerous lion sightings are imprinted in my mind and on my heart – Buffalo Thorn Lodge, I’m coming back for more!
Story by: Lisa Crumpton