The open topped jeep bumped up and down on the dirt road into the bush. Chelsi pulled the blanket tightly around her in the pre-dawn cold. Turning her head out of the wind she could just see the first light of day peaking over the edge of the earth. This was not what she had expected out of her vacation. Up before the sun? So tired at the end of the day my eyes close on their own? Of course if you skipped the morning safari ride who knows what you might miss; lion? leopards? giraffes? She really wanted to see ostrich, or wild dogs. But to want was vain. This wasn’t a zoo; they weren’t just rolling past enclosures.
There was quick jerk of the jeep and the group was turned off the road and onto a herd path. Made by elephants maybe? It was wide enough for sure. Most of the trees on either side were bulldozed down to stumps.
“This is the work of elephants hear,” their driver and guide, Mike, called over the engine. “Elephants will start with the leaves, then, once those are gone, they’ll eat the twigs and sticks. Or they’ll strip the tree of bark and eat that soft, wet part of the tree we call the cambium layer. It’s the vascular system of the tree, so once it’s gone the tree dies and maybe the elephants knock them over or they fall apart on their own. But elephants are also known to knock down the species of trees that are not favorable for eating.”
To Chelsi it looked not much different than a clear cut forest. Mike slowed the jeep to a crawl and peered over the side, into the soft dirt. She was out for her element when it came to tracks here, but there’s no way those are elephants; dinner plate sized ovals with thin ridges of dirt running through them. Without obvious toes, she wondered how Mike could tell which direction they were headed, when a trumpet of a hundred French horns sounded in her ears.
I guess that’s what you miss, if you stare at the ground, she laughed to herself, after her thoughts had recovered. The animal towered sky high just in front of the jeep. Rough, grey skin looked draped over broad bones. Deep wrinkle and ridges especially marked her legs and belly. She flapped her ears, creating a velvet back drop for gleaming tusks.
“It seems like we might have snuck up on this one a little bit,” but there was an air of aloofness in Mike’s voice that helped her relax. “Elephants have very poor eyesight, only able to see about ten meters in front of them and not very well in low light conditions.”
With the whole body of the sun was nearly reveled, more light was being shed on their surroundings. As Chelsi’s eyes adjusted and looked around she saw elephants coming through the bush all around them. Babies poked out between the legs of their mothers, who were using their muscular trunks to gather the vegetation around them and stuff it into their mouths; the little ones yours theirs to sniff at the mysterious new comers.
After the herd’s Matriarch gathered her wits she started back across the path in to the bush. Dutifully all the rest followed. When they were clear of path Mike re-fired the engine and pushed the jeep up the path to the next adventure.