Sand Rivers indaba


A morning with The General

I have great respect and affection for The General. He is always so calm and goes about his business without taking any notice of me whatsoever. The General, or simply General as he is called, is an elephant who I see fairly frequently. I prefer to call him The General as a mark of respect. He’s no military tactician, all he’s interested in, outside of when he’s in musth, is to eat as much as is possible 24/7 (musth, meaning intoxicated in Hindi, is an annual, yet asynchronous, rut-like condition that is experienced by adult African and Asian male elephants. Behaviourally, musth is characterised by heightened aggression, decreased feeding, urine dribbling, temporal gland secretion and enhanced sexual activity).

He’s always accompanied by a group of younger bulls or askaris (guard in KiSwahili). Sometimes there are as many as 5 askaris with him. Maybe he’s their guru, and they’re certainly respectful of him.

The General has a magnificent pair of tusks and he’s in his prime. He’s what people would call a super tusker. In the area that I visit I have seen at least 3 big bulls who would fit into super tusker category. The General I see most often. Another is Kilimanjaro, whom I’ve only seen once – he has awesome ivory and on the day I saw him he was also so mild mannered and barely took any notice of me. The third bull doesn’t have a name, I sometimes call him NoNameBrand. I must confess the naming of elephants irks me somewhat. Maybe he goes by a different name in elephant lingo? I mean if your name was Robert and people referred to you as Lofty because you’re very tall, or very short, I bet you might feel peeved. So NoNameBrand is an imposing animal with massive tusks. He’s also pretty placid. Until the last time that I saw him that is. He was in musth and very grumpy. Not only was he impatient with the 4 askaris accompanying him, but he saw me off as well in no uncertain fashion; so I kept my distance, I mean what’s an ant to an elephant?

But back to The General. At times he’s barely 20 feet away from me. I watch fascinated as his sensitive trunk searches and sniffs out delectable greenery to stuff into his mouth. Incredible how dexterous his trunk is and I can see right into his mouth and pink tongue. Because the grass is still pretty green he eats vast quantities of it. His trunk wraps around a huge bunch and I hear the squeaky sound as he rips it out of the ground, sometimes banging the dirt off against his knees, before into his maw it goes.

Once in a while he drops 8 or 9 light greeny-brown dung balls and I hear them hit the ground with a thud. I suppose being 20 feet away from such a powerful animal is a bit stupid, and maybe one day he’ll lose patience with me and I’ll be sent home packed into a matchbox! But today he doesn’t even acknowledge my presence. No distracted feeding. No watching me out of the corner of his eye. He completely ignores me. He’s so close I can hear his massive jaws and molars chomping away. And I can smell him. Difficult to describe, but it’s certainly a wild animal smell, slightly sour but not repugnant. And it smells like something big.

As he moves off I follow him respectfully, never invading his space. I usually try and anticipate which way he’s going, move ahead and wait for him to come into my space; and then I sit quietly as he approaches me.

Sometimes he, or one of his askaris, lets off a thunderous fart. And I giggle silently to myself, I mean this is just a group of blokes having a good time!

I am always amazed at how silently elephants move, quite incredible. They’re such magnificent, awe-inspiring creatures, like great grey ships gliding majestically through the grey, greeny-brown sea of the African bush.

There are 2 comments

  1. Dan Sonnenberg

    Those of you with sharp eyes will notice a triangular protrusion to the right of his left ear. This is the top of his collar (no we don’t walk him in the park) which houses the device that allows the Elephants Alive team to track his movements. Have a look at the work that Elephants Alive does here https://elephantsalive.org.


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