On Safari: Too Close for Comfort

On Safari: Too Close for Comfort

TooCloseThree leopards, hundreds of elephant, five lion, dozens of giraffe and an unexpectedly large number of zebra featured the Kisiel Family’s first two days on safari.

Tarangire is usually the first game park I take my families to. It’s relatively close to Arusha, never fails to produce the best elephant viewing on the continent regardless of the time of year, and is simply a great introduction to game viewing.

That proved true, again, and it also lets me explain the complex situation that exists with elephant, today.

In my view there are too many elephant. That doesn’t mean there are more elephant than ever, or that there isn’t a serious problem of poaching, but it means that the habitat left to ele today is simply not large enough for them.

This seemed self-evident to me about a decade ago when normal elephant behaviors began to break down, and it was most demonstrable in Tarangire.

In the past elephant families rarely mixed. If there was a water hole or wallow of interest by multiple families, they each too their turn, giving wide berth to the other families.

Every day in Tarangire multiple families are seen together. And there is obvious agitation but ultimate acceptance that multiple families must at least temporarily merge. Although it’s hard to use anecdotal evidence and my observations are no means rigorous science, I definitely believe what I and my clients see every single time I come here is an indication there are too many ele.

And, of course, all you have to do is pull up some of the local chatter and blogs of farmers, clergymen and school teachers who live near ele reserves like Tarangire.

So this is a time throughout East Africa to be particularly cautious about ele.

So you can imagine how I felt when the manager and staff of Tarangire Sopa Lodge where we’re staying seemed incapable of keeping three ele from nearly entering reception, playing around with the lawn hose, and walking up and down the balconies of the rooms as if they were checking the serial numbers on the patio windows.

This is courting disaster. And it’s hard to explain this to my clients. The kids, especially, thought it was “cool” and they’re right, it was thrilling and clearly not something you’d expect.

But it’s also dangerous. One security man threw a few rocks at the ele, but no one turned off the water, no one seemed to have a elephant horn (a loud screaming high pressure device that sometimes works) and no one offered or perhaps was trained to shot a blank above their heads.

So they lingered throughout most of the afternoon, making it difficult for me to keep the kids out of their sight.

We had a great time in Tarangire, and I’m glad to say a safe one as well. We had wonderful ele encounters out on the game drives, getting remarkable close to those we judged safe.

But if lodges and camps can’t figure out a way to keep familiarity at bay, disaster is around the next corner.

As she walked past my verandah and over to the verandah where Ryan, Hadley, Sophie and Cam were watching her, I remembered a number of horrible stories about what elephants can do and have done to me and my clients.