When You See a Baby Elephant on Safari, Keep the Motor Running

Singita Ebony Lodge
Singita Ebony Lodge

The Sabi Sand Reserve is a protected area located along South Africa’s northeastern border with Mozambique. Within the Reserve, the traditional 12-suite Singita Ebony Lodge and more modern 15-suite Singita Boulders Lodge sit on 45,000 acres of private land. Because the Singita operation oversees so much exclusive real estate, you’re guaranteed to see some wildlife. Lots of wildlife.

Our group of journalists hunkered down at Ebony in large thatch cottages with mahogany 4-post beds, stone fireplaces, vintage safari photography, private pools and clawfoot tubs looking out over the veld. We were told to call for escorts to go back and forth between our rooms and the main lodge because leopards in the area like to wander the same footpaths. It was also advised that we latch our doors from the inside since the smarter baboons know how to turn the handles.

The first morning there, we meet at daybreak in the towering open-air lobby overlooking the plains from a forested bluff. There’s a palpable sense of excitement as we sip hot coffee, surrounded by colorful native rugs, old colonial-era lamps, luxuriously worn-in leather couches, and a Hemingway-esque reading room.

Our first day on safari.

It’s 8:30 am and we’re driving in open-air Land Rovers through the scrubby bush with views halfway to Zambia. Our guide Samuel spots the herd of seven elephants walking about a 1/4 mile away parallel to us. He knows instinctively where they’re going. So he pulls ahead to a watering hole and positions the truck on the other side with the sun at our backs. Slowly, the beasts come toward us one by one into the pond, where they roll in the mud to cool themselves.

There’s a baby who leaves first and sees us. It raises its trunk to test our scent and starts to move closer. When the baby is maybe 40 feet away, mom catches eyesight of what’s happening. She gets up out of the pool with commitment, and that’s when everyone stopped taking photos. Then the rest of the family starts to follow, including dad who’s the size of a cement truck.

Samuel moves the shift knob into drive. He feels it necessary to tell us not to get out of the truck. The whole family then lines up side by side facing us directly less than 15 feet away. Mom is doing the thing with her ears, spreading them in a show of force. Sam asks if everyone’s okay. I’m thinking we’re sorta relying on him to tell us if we’re okay. Two people in the truck are looking at their feet. My body is literally vibrating being so close to so much tonnage of defensive elephant with no fence in sight.

This goes on for about three minutes or so. Feeling secure, the animals move on and we get out for a break of tea and fresh crumpets.

Here’s a photo I took as the elephants were leaving. That’s mom on the left giving us one last look, and the shadow of us on the lower right.