If you’re interested in visiting the Antarctic, the Arctic, or any of the other places where I’ve done fieldwork, send me an email,
In the midst of a herd of elephants I am always too much in thrall to feel my insignificance. It is when elephants are next to other animals, or when the adults among them are beside the elephant very young that scale becomes clear to me. Compared to a great bull everything is small. Size matters. Elephants do not have much to fear.
There are exceptions: For the babies, an inadvertent encounter with a venomous snake; a team of lions in the African dark hunting adolescents or perhaps in extremis, even the full-grown; a man or woman with a gun…
In the latter case after a killing elephants are capable of a simmering anger, and of revenge. The herd that has lost someone to poachers is a collectively dangerous beast. People expecting the romantic version; those who should know better but too inexperienced to take note of the all too obvious signs; those with the sense to be aware but careless or unknowing of the recent history, all invite disaster. They have been stretched by the powerful trunk, pinned by tusks, kneeled on and crushed. Though this is the exception. Elephants prefer flap their ears, trumpet loudly, run back and forth, do almost everything they can to dissuade you before the ears fold back, head lowers, the raised trunk drops and the mock charge turns the irrevocable corner into something else entirely.
Though not in the same league as poaching, crowded conditions are a tremendous irritant for elephants, just as they are for most other species (including us). Nowhere is there more trespass into the confines of normal animal personal space than a Sub-Saharan waterhole at the end of dry season. Natural enemies are forced to close proximity: Hippos and crocs. Lions and zebra. Hyena, and everybody.
Crocs and elephants…
The largest Nile crocodiles weigh in at 700 kilos or more, and can attain lengths of over 3 meters. Elephants are twice as long as any living crocodile and (even adult females) weigh in at thousands of kilos. Thousands. To flatten the skull of a Nile crocodile, even a large one, is not outside the realm of the possible. One good stomp and we enter the realm of the certain. If we argue that the elephant is too much at risk if it attacks then the question becomes, risk relative to what? Coming close, close enough to make a viable threat is as dangerous as following through. Perhaps more so. If an elephant strikes that heavy blow, the crocodile is one and done. Threat, however, turns the advantage to the croc who now has the option to bite, a bite with its own crushing logic.
The more I look, the more certain I become that restraint is the norm and violence the exception in the unhindered animal world.
Travelogue: This August (2016) I will be in the Maasai Mara with Donald Young Safaris. Don operates one of the premier African tented safaris. To be in the midst of the wildlife is the best experience, and this is what he provides. Don and I know each other through the Explorers Club (he is a longtime member, I was inducted this Spring). He is serious conservationist, and as such, his concerns extend to both animals and the humans who share the land with them. Don can be reached at www.DonaldYoungSafaris.com
Akpatok Island, Hudson Strait
Akpatok is a large island in Hudson Strait, Canada (approximately 60.2 N 68.4 W). I was there with Adventure Canada (www.adventurecanada.com) July 2015. There were polar bears on shore, drawn to the island by the large nesting colonies of thick-billed murre. Contrary to what you may have heard, neither the birds nor their eggs or chicks provide more than a snack to a polar bear, and at that, one that is hard to digest. Bears need fat. Fat comes from seals. To hunt seals bears need ice (they cannot match a seal’s speed or mobility in water). No ice means no polar bears. Land foods will never make up the difference. Nevertheless, at a time of year when they are in the middle of their long summer fast, thick-billed murre are better than nothing and the polar bears appear in significant numbers.
The most unusual polar bear/human interaction I’ve ever seen – and certainly the most amusing – is detailed in the photos below. A big male bear climbed up the cliff to a great height, made himself comfortable, and then watched as a tourist plane flew right by him. I cannot say for certain this is what that polar bear climbed up to see, but there were no birds nesting anywhere near that part of the cliff, and as far as I can tell, other than the scheduled flight by Air Inuit, no reason to climb so high. Anyone who’s been around polar bears knows they are very smart. How smart? No comment…
You can hear me read the essay I wrote about this particular polar bear encounter on Living on Earth, http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=16-P13-00003&segmentID=6
Mark Seth Lender
Polar Bear Climbs the Talus Mound
Polar Bear at 400′ – Nothing there, and thinking, “Higher?”
And higher he goes!
HERE COMES THE PLANE!!
There goes the plane…
And Polar Bear lies down.