We did as we were told. The group of strangers crowded together oh-ing and ah-ing, giggling and taking photographs fell instantly silent, instantly still. No movement, save the trembling of fingers, the pounding of hearts in chests. Maybe it was something in his voice that commanded our instant obedience – that firm but somehow tense tone replacing the chatty bonhomie of moments before.
But I suspect it may have been the elephant. Grumpy, ears splayed wide, peering at us from beneath heavy eyelashes. I may have enjoyed the experience more if it wasn’t a bull elephant within a trunk’s length of our open-topped vehicle, and it hadn’t just appeared from behind a bush as if from the ether.
For at least 30 seconds we sat there, in fear and awe of this amazing animal – beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. Until it decided that we weren’t worth the bother and went back to its meal. Needless to say, the game ranger was quick to remove us to a safer location, where we could enjoy the beauty of the animals without the close encounters becoming too close.
That was the day I realised I would not have made a good game ranger. But there were other lessons too.
Sometimes it is not the environment that causes the problem, but our response to it. Similarly, our response to a problem can cause it to cease to be a problem. We could’ve shouted, the ranger could’ve started the engine and raced off – and that would’ve encouraged a very different outcome. So choose your response. That can make all the difference.
Sometimes you get what you asked for. We wanted an encounter with elephants – and we certainly got one! But we got the visceral be glad you live in the 21st century and not in a prehistoric times version, and personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even if it took me a long time to calm down. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
We are all game rangers in life. We all have to live with elephants (and predators too – but that’s for another time). We can choose to stay on the roads, or go off-road; look at the elephants from afar and not appreciate their true beauty, or see them up close and be amazed by their dexterity; stay safe definitely with an excellent and obvious escape route or run the risk of things being uncomfortable and maybe even dangerous. The decisions we make don’t just affect us, but affect all those that are in our vehicle with us.
So if you want go within a trunk’s length of a bull elephant, make sure the people going with you can sit still when required.