28 December 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Gona Re Zhou Elephants

Years ago, on a game drive in the Zimbabwean reserve called Gona Re Zhou, I and a Landrover-full of journalists had the experience of being charged by elephants.

Not one elephant. Not a few adults. No - an entire matriarchal herd, babies and all. The long years of hostile interactions with humans during the Mozambican civil war (Gona re Zhou was on the unfenced border) had left made these elephants less than friendly. They’d been harried, poached and hunted for decades.

They chased us in complete silence, eyes intent, ears out and trunks stretched out before them for what seemed like kilometres along a rutted track. Eventually they gave up and we laughed with relief.

Not long ago, my husband Chris and I were at Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa’s North West Province. The park is home to elephants translocated from Gona Re Zhou.

Out on the game drive, we soon came upon a large breeding herd of elephants. In fact, it must have been a gathering of the clans, because we saw well over 70 elephants, some with extremely tiny babies.

The mothers were highly protective of their young, but they were quite calm, eating with hooded eyes, shooting us a sharp glance every now and then.

Our field guide was wary, keeping the vehicle poised for an easy getaway.

Each elephant that crossed the road looked at us with hard eyes, ears outstretched in warning as if to say: “And you stay right there! Don’t move.”

We didn’t. Once they’d passed, we headed over the hill, and lo, there were more elephants joining the others, heading for the river. We were still at least 100 metres away from them, when a female emerging from a thicket took one penetrating look at us, flapped open her ears, lifted her head and started to charge. True to Gona Re Zhou form, her entire family charged with her, including babies.

Pule let out a small exclamation of dismay, put the Landie in reverse and we headed smartly out her way, backwards up the hill. She crossed the road, looked up again, and decided we were still too close. She charged again, and we promptly retreated. Finally satisfied, she shook her head at us one last time and vanished between the thorn trees.

We laughed in relief.

Pule gave us a comforting update. “Ten years ago, they would never even have allowed you to spend so long with the breeding herd. They’ve mellowed, but you still need to be careful.”

Category: Wildlife

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