Monday, May 7, 2012

African Time - Mike Dexter

It’s 9:00 and we’ve been in the hide for an hour and a half. A herd of impala just moved off, as have the guinea fowl and go-away birds. Only a scattering of turtle doves remain, kicking up small clouds of dust as they shuffle down to the still water. It’s almost time to head back to camp for a hearty brunch when a movement catches the corner of my eye. I look right and there, only 2 meters away, is a pair of huge grey wrinkled feet. Then from the left another appears, a silent giant approaching the waterhole. The elephants are here.

Soon dozens more fill the world before us. All that exists at this moment is elephants, water, shutters and my heart drumming in my ears. We are part of the herd, looking up into thirsty mouths, almost touching the dripping trunks and cracked toe nails. Never in my life have I been as much absorbed and overwhelmed as I am at this moment. It’s difficult to think about framing, composition or exposure and I can barely hold the camera in my trembling hands. Even so, from this angle and from this close, a bad photograph is unlikely. It’s difficult to count but there are easily more than 60 elephants in this herd. After half an hour they start to move off, a slow procession throwing up clouds of dust as they make their way towards the distant feeding grounds across the river.
The next morning 08:35 comes by. We’ve been at the hide since just after 06:00 and have had some great birding. The typical deep grumble tells us that elephants are in the area and minutes later they appear from the mopane thickets in the East. It’s a breeding herd of 20 individuals, and they’re thirsty. Yesterday’s experience is repeated with equal intensity only now we are prepared. We’ve talked about how to maximise the photographic opportunity and what to concentrate on. We manage to control our shaking hands and start thinking about the photography. It’s difficult to do but back at the lodge the results speak for themselves as we review our photographs.
Over the next 2 days we were to have another 5 elephant encounters at the hide. What we noticed was the regularity at which the elephants were visiting the waterhole. Of the 7 elephant sightings 5 occurred between 08:30 and 09:00; whoever said ‘African time’ is unreliable clearly didn’t have the elephants of Mashatu in mind.
Ground level elephant sightings aside, we had some incredible game viewing on the latest C4 photo workshop including, but not limited to, wild dogs, aardwolf, tiny lion cubs and 6 different leopards.

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