Friday, March 6, 2015

In the Footsteps of Giants

One by one the elephants wake up in the soft grass beneath a shelter of palm trees near Serena Forest. The family sleeps here each night in this oasis within Kenya’s vast Amboseli National Park.
Photo: Helen Nash/IFAW
As the sun rises to illuminate the park, the matriarch steps in front of the curtain of trees and picks a destination across the park. Today it will be a wetland formed after last month’s two rainy days, the runoff still filtering through Kilimanjaro’s underground rivers and springs. They’ll spend the morning eating and drinking and the afternoon napping.

The family slowly gathers and then sets out together. Their steps are deliberate, as if each is carefully chosen.

We follow in the footsteps of the giants. Their dusty impressions are deep, but the elephants never look back to view them, nor forward but to calibrate their direction. Their focus is in the present, on keeping the unit together, caring for the young, observing the landscape for threats and opportunities. 

They reach the wetland and spend hours chest deep in water, grasping huge tufts of grass with their trunks and then pushing sideways with their tusks to rip the clumps out at the roots. Their trunks are as graceful as they are powerful, and they carefully curl the green bunches into their waiting mouths and munch on them with loud, savoring chews.

Soon the sun has passed over the great mountain and begins its afternoon descent. Their palmy oasis beckons again and the family begins moving in great and slow steps towards their evening destination.
Photo: Helen Nash/IFAW
Amboseli’s elephants live as they have for millions of years -- safer every day from the greed of ivory poachers and the threat of human encroachment. That I, as part of IFAW, may be playing a role in helping them live as nature intended should perhaps be humbling and a source of pride, but instead all I feel is grateful -- for it is the elephant’s gift to remind us to live simply and in harmony with our surroundings; to choose our destination and then enjoy our journey; to make each step thoughtfully; to stick together and take care of each other.

The last pink streaks of sunlit clouds give way to a sky swollen with stars. Night birds whistle an elaborate soundtrack against the occasional grunts of a passing pride of lions and the panicked rumble of waterbuck hooves. 

The elephants lie down again in the tall, soft grass of their oasis and welcome the soft embrace of sleep.

All is as it should be.

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