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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Elephants in Livingstone, Zambia

Almost a year ago to the day, I flew up on business to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and took a slight detour down to Livingstone on the banks of the beautiful Victoria Falls. 

I am a proud African citizen.  I was born and brought up in South Africa and am blessed and privileged to have lived in Ndola on the Copperbelt in Zambia for five years.  I am just as blessed and privileged to have this magnificence right on my doorstep, to visit whenever I please.

Join me, if you will, and I hope that, through me, you can vicariously experience one moment in time which will stay with me always.

A colleague met me at the little, very rural, Livingstone International Airport.  As we were driving to the hotel, he stopped on the side of the road.  I didn't at first understand why but, a crash from in amongst the trees on the side of the road on which we'd stopped, alerted me soon enough.  A herd of elephant was ambling along enjoying the lush vegetation.  We thought, at first, that it was a small herd which had broken way from the herd which lived on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls (Vic Falls to locals).  We were so mistaken, this was no break-away group.  This was a herd of more than 100 strong and was led by a matriarch who was, honestly, one the biggest elephant I've ever seen and I've seen a lot of them.

From the photographs, which were taken with my smartphone, so have none of the normal enhancements one can achieve with a camera, it's easy to be mistaken about how close the elephants actually were. However, if you look at the vegetation and the tufts of grass in the foreground, you can see that, even when the elephants were still at a bit of a distance from us, they were already fairly close.  Here, there is one tiny copse of trees between us and them.

Across the picture in the background from left to right are elephants walking trunk to tail
I don't know how long we watched as the herd moved slowly along.  I could have stayed and watched them for hours.  
A juvenile bull elephant enjoying his afternoon tea

Here's a young bull elephant, ostensibly oblivious to us, enjoying his meal.  He was, however, very aware of our presence but was happily chomping away so wasn't interested in us.  We kept a close eye on him and were ready to reverse out of there the minute he stopped eating.  Juvenile bull elephants are very unpredictable and if he had decided to charge our truck, he was that close (only a few dozen metres) that he could have trampled us in no time.  Also, with the herd all around, if he felt threatened, he could quickly and easily have alerted the rest of the herd and there's a good chance I wouldn't be here to tell the story. That's my arm in the rear view mirror on the bottom right of the photo.

More of the herd, passing by us.  They were really, really close.
Elephants are seldom in a hurry and this herd was definitely out on a leisurely afternoon stroll.  From the photograph it appears as if there is only one single line of elephants.  I don't know how many deep they were walking but I would guess that they were at least four or five deep.  Once again, you can see how very close they were to us.  

The magnificence of it will be etched in my memory forever.  

Elephants milling around, enjoying themselves in the mid-afternoon, African sun
The vegetation was tinder-dry, as you can see.  Here and there are patches of green but for the rest, it was extremely dry and brown.

Zambia has a sub-tropical climate and is extremely hot all year round.  As in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, we locals speak of having four seasons in a year but we really only have two - summer and winter.  In Zambia even these two seasons aren't clearly defined.  Winters are so hot that the only real difference in the seasons is that it rains in summer.

As an example, in winter, on a 'cold' evening, one would, at most, put on a light cardigan.  Winters are also exceedingly dry and rains only begin towards the middle of November, and perhaps earlier in the month if one is very lucky. To give you an understanding of how hot it is at that time of year before the rains arrive. There are very real health hazards. I don't mean hazards such as the anopheles mosquitoes which the rains bring with them and which carry malaria.  They are also a real danger but what I'm referring to is the heat. October is referred to by locals as 'suicide month' because the heat is so unbearable that people's blood literally heats up so much that it affects their brains.  There are more suicides in October in Zambia than in all the other months combined.

Due to the extreme heat, for a lot of the year, Zambia is dry and when I was up in Livingstone at the end of September last year, the vegetation was a reflection of exactly how dry the winter had been that year. Everything was sparse and brown except for patches of green here and there.   The Zambian countryside is a vision once the first rains fall - and that's a misnomer if there ever was one; the rain doesn't 'fall' in Zambia, it pummels the earth in solid sheets.  As the first rains hit the parched earth, one can almost see the new growths forcing their way through the soil and into the light.  Myriad hues of green appear out of nowhere and are liberally sprinkled with all the colours of the wild flora which spring up almost overnight.  

This photo is the only one I didn't take myself but it does give an idea of the rainfall.  This is typical of a 'shower' of rain  in Zambia.  When I lived in Zambia, we never considered even trying to drive in the rain. The two metre deep culverts which ran alongside all major roads, filled to overflowing in less than half an hour and torrents formed and became raging rivers where the road dipped, even slightly.  That's a lot of water.  Floods are a regular feature during summer and the average rainfall is 200mm per month.

Zambia - first rains of the season

A lot of very big animals - thankfully with their backs to us - up close and personal

We eventually drove away when it became obvious that the matriarch was intent on taking her herd across the road and, besides not wanting to upset her, if we'd stayed where we were, we may have been in danger of being trampled.

That evening, at sundown, we were sipping drinks on the banks of the Zambezi overlooking the Victoria Falls and watching hippo gambolling in the shallows but, that's a story for another time.

This is Africa at its very finest.  


  1. The pictures are amazing, even from a phone. I have envy.

    1. They were really close, Andrew and it was so wonderful to be that close to them; scary but wonderful. :)

  2. Hi, Fe,

    How magnificent! Thank you for sharing your photos with us.... To be that close is so exciting. A zoo will never be the same for me. LOL.

    You are very lucky... The falls must be an amazing sight!

    1. Hello, Michael

      I know. I am really blessed. :) I actually walked right up to the edge of the Falls. Quite scary because if I'd slipped, there is no safety net. We learn to be very, very careful in Africa...

      The local African people call Victoria Falls 'Mosi-oa-Tunya' which means 'the smoke that thunders'. The Falls are apparently classified as the world's largest, at about twice the height of Niagara Falls.

      Here's a Wiki entry to give you some idea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Falls