Written by: Peter Enticknap
When we arrived in Tarangire it was parched, hot and dusty. The rains that soaked the Serengeti just days earlier had not arrived – here the drought continued. The Tarangire River had been sucked dry. A few muddy holes remained to provide sanctuary from the scorching sun for elephants and hippos. Tarangire seemed bleak compared to the verdant Serengeti. But it was in Tarangire National Park that we had the most unforgettable adventure.
On our second game drive in Tarangire, the oppressive sun forced us to find shade in a grove of giant baobab trees when I noticed a small dark object standing under a distant tree. Grabbing my binoculars I spotted the unmistakable silhouette of a tiny baby elephant. I scanned the burnt brown horizon for the little elephant’s herd and found none. Then I spotted two more dark shapes moving toward the little elephant – with distinctive arched backs, dark spots and sloping rears.
Spotted hyenas circled the baby ellie and as we approached the little elephant, two spotted hyenas skulked off into the bush. To our surprise, the baby elephant ran toward our Land Rover and started head butting the rear tire. The elephant was hot and thirsty and we managed to pour water into the little elephant’s mouth.
We could see the hyenas lurking nearby in the bush, waiting for a chance to move in. We scanned the horizon looking for the elephant’s family but no luck so we decided to continue to a remote ranger’s camp several miles away that may be able to help. As we slowly pulled away the little elephant ran next to the Land Rover but soon tired. We stopped again and again to encourage the elephant on but it just couldn’t keep up.
We decided to try and lift the elephant into the vehicle. The elephant seemed to understand our intent and with a little help put its front feet on the side of the Land Rover. We lifted the elephant’s head while pushing the rear end onto the back seat. Relaxed the baby ellie leaned back on my lap and relieved itself. I’d been anointed with warm ellie pee!
With the little ellie half seated across my legs we continued on to the ranger’s camp. The elephant felt hot and seemed exhausted. We were captivated with our new companion when our guide broke the spell. He nervously told us that we could get into big trouble. He explained that if we encounter elephants and the baby starts to call out, we might be charged and probably killed. “They’re very defensive of their young and will do anything to get to her” he said. As we approached the ranger’s camp we saw a large herd of elephants, perhaps 20 animals or more.
Just out of sight of the elephant herd, we eased the baby elephant out of the Land Rover. The elephant ran behind us into camp and went straight into the ranger’s dark cool cement hut. As we poured water over the baby to keep it cool, we noticed the elephant herd just beyond camp had moved closer. Two very large elephants separated from the grazing herd and seemed to be coming slowly toward us. They appeared to watch our every move.
It was getting late and unfortunately we had to leave the park before dark. The next morning we had to go back and find out what had become of the elephant and we headed off in the chilly morning air. Unlike our typical early game drive we didn’t stop, not even for lions on a kill. At the ranger’s camp we were told that at dusk, right after we left, two large female elephants silently walked into camp, surrounded the baby ellie and took her away. As we pulled out of camp, the herd of ellies blocked our path. We stopped and right in front of us walked a large female with a tiny baby. We all thought we noticed a pink bump on the baby ellie’s head from butting our Land Rover’s tire the previous day.
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