It is time to head out once again on the tenders for an afternoon of wildlife spotting; today we are hoping to see savannah elephants. The African elephant is the largest animal that walks this earth and their herds wander through 37 countries in Africa. There are two subspecies of African elephant, the savannah elephant (or bush elephant) and the forest elephant. The savannah elephants are larger and lighter in colour than the forest elephant and can also be distinguished by their outward curving tusks.
We pass a large hippopotamus, sitting in the shallow waters by the riverbank. It watches us as we pass but doesn’t move.
On a sandy bank a nile crocodile is basking in the sun. Nearby a flock of blacksmith lapwings and an African jacana are pecking at the ground, seemingly oblivious to the presence of such a fierce predator.
As continue along the river we spot a herd of elephants splashing water over themselves to cool down. The younger elephants copy their mothers as they spray water over their backs. For one elephant this method seems to be taking too long and instead it wades into the shallow waters and lies down, submerging itself. It rolls around, splashing the others until it is satisfied and then sets off towards the trees at the top of the embankment.
As we have been watching the herd our tender has floated towards the bank of the river and the elephants have noticed us. One turns to face us, raises its trunk and bellows, shaking its head in our direction. Although this is not the largest elephant in the herd, we are now less than ten metres away and it is quite intimidating!
It was a wonderful photo opportunity however, we are quite relieved when the elephant joins rest of the herd and our driver starts the engine. We continue on our way, leaving the elephants to enjoy their bath in peace.
As we round a bend a large, lone elephant comes into view. Our driver explains to us that this is an old elephant and, as we float towards the bank, it does not seem at all bothered by us. Our tender finally comes to rest only a few metres from this giant creature and we watch in awe as it drinks from the river.
We begin our journey back to the Zambezi Queen, very pleased with our close-up encounters when our guide points to the grassy embankment ahead. A herd of over 50 elephants stretches along the riverbank. Some are drinking and cooling themselves in the river, while others are tearing juicy branches off the trees. The younger elephants are playing on the sand, entwining their trunks and wrestling with each other.
Northern Botswana is home to the largest continuous population of savannah elephants in Africa with a population of around 150,000. Over 70,000 of these elephants live in the Chobe National Park, creating one of the largest concentrations of elephants in Africa. The elephants found in this area are also said to be the largest in body size and are quite used to encountering tourists, which increases chances of experiences like the ones we enjoyed today. Despite these encounters being relatively frequent, we still feel extremely lucky to have been so close to these free-roaming gentle giants in their natural habitat.