“Elephant!” our driver Ray shouts, slamming on the brakes. My sister, father and I scan the dry brush of the hillside from the back of the Land Rover. Directly above us, a bull elephant stands, partially obscured, tail swatting, ears flapping, skin as dry and wrinkled as African earth. He thrashes, ripping bushes and small trees out of the ground–destroying more than he eats. As he switchbacks down the hill towards us and his flesh quakes. He peers at us from behind the bushes.
The elephant is the most dangerous animal in Africa. Hundreds of people are killed each year from elephant attacks. According to the National Geographic website, as elephants are pushed into smaller spaces they are becoming more aggressive. Here in Tanzania they are increasingly poached for their ivory and some sources say the African elephant will become extinct within our lifetime. With a flick of his tusk this guy could easily flip our truck—we’d be tossed to the ground and trampled.
Webster’s English Dictionary defines fear as, a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful. It defines trust as, assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. As I scramble for the best camera angle I look back at Ray in the rearview mirror. “I am watching him, my friend,” he says. “I know how to read him.” Ray has the truck’s engine running, and in gear.
The tusker charges into a small tree, knocking it down, barreling straight towards us. “He’s going to knock us over!” Kathi yells. Ray pulls the vehicle forward slightly. As the bull blasts out of the bushes and he grazes the back of the truck. I can see his deep, crevasse-like wrinkles, his eyelashes that are so long they look fake, and I can smell his dung. If my arms were a few feet longer I could touch him.
He continues to stalk us from behind as Ray moves the truck, keeping a foot or two ahead of his reach. Our friend raises his trunk into the air and trumpets, sidling up next to the vehicle. He scrapes it with his yellowish tusk and Ray hits the gas.
We stop about five hundred feet ahead of him. He sizes us up from the distance, decides we’re not worth the effort, and heads into a ravine on the other side of the road. He totters towards a stream and takes a long drink. We had stood between him and his water. We were a barrier to be removed. As he drinks in the hollow he looks small, harmless. In the rearview mirror I can see the grin on Ray’s face.