Huge, grey giants grazing placidly in the grasslands, carefully dusting the shoots in their trunks before devouring them. The mothers suckling their young ones and the calves playing with their siblings. A lone tusker, striding slowly around the herd, looking out for females in heat. Just sitting amongst these extremely social creatures gives me a sense of peace that simply cannot be replicated. These silent giants that communicate using low, infrasonic rumbles that are carried across kilometres are truly one of a kind.
Known to be the largest mammal on land, elephants look very intimidating, but in reality have really soft hearts. They have been an integral part of my life, right from my childhood. The first time I remember seeing an elephant in wild is in Kabini, when a juvenile tusker charged at us, and then went squeaking into the bushes, frightened by the sound of our jeep (and yes, elephants do squeak and squeal!). Those were the days, when I looked out for those grey humps in the undergrowth expectantly, and was genuinely excited when we spotted a herd.
But then, around five years back, I had an encounter with this particular herd of elephants, which completely changed my attitude towards this species. It was in the summer of 2006, in Corbett National Park. We spotted a herd of elephants in the grasslands and drove towards it at great speed. Halting next to the herd, we did not realise that our jeep came in between two of the calves and the rest of the herd. The entire herd, comprising around ten huge females, charged right at us, trumpeting with all their might. We immediately moved forward and the herd calmed down after the calves were safe amongst them. I was shivering hysterically and tears flowed down my cheeks. It was a long time before I could regain control. Till date, this has been the ultimate charge I have ever experienced.
After this incident, I began dreading the sight of elephants, begging my dad to push off before they charged. After experiencing so many charges, people might presume that I would have got used to them. But I can firmly say that this is one thing that no one can ever get used to. Something I have always noticed in these charges is that they are always “charges”, not “attacks”. We can never really blame them for these charges because it is we humans who encroach into their space and threaten their survival.
In spite of my fear of elephants, the first things that come to my mind when talking about them are those moments of pleasure that I have spent with them. One such significant incident was when a thoroughly bored tusker chased all the vehicles around him and enjoyed seeing us back out. Another was when we stayed with a herd of elephants, which had a two day old calf with them, for around two hours. Watching the little one weaving between the legs of the females and being bullied by his siblings is a memory that will always remain close to my heart.
The humility of these gentle giants is a must-mention. In spite of their tremendous physical strength and the power they hold, they will never harm another creature, unless really provoked. I still remember the day when a young female charged at us, and then went and stood behind a very thin tree, trying to hide behind it. They are indeed, humility personified.
“If there is one attribute I would like humans to learn from elephants, it is silence”, said Katy Payne the founder of the Elephant Listening Project. These humble and gentle creatures are the ones i love the best and respect the most, cause I know deep down, that behind no charge is an evil intention; but only the drive to survive.