Safari Final: Elephants in the River and a Short Film on Our Day

Three hippos stood in the shallow water opposite the wide river from where our picnic table sat. These round, grey mammalian buoys were the first of a few we’d see this afternoon.

The animal sightings forthwith offered a few new species as well as some old ones a bit more lively than before. Most lifelike of all, though, I cap off these safari articles with a short film of the best footage from our day-long outing in the open African wilderness.

***

After our early-afternoon lunch, we four volunteer teachers hopped back into the SUV for a stretch along the river. As were our lunchtime companions across the way, animals of all kinds were found to be fond of this source of water in the park. This interest is concentrated when it’s the dry season. For as we saw last time, some of the rivers in Ruaha National Park are dried up.

With the river to our right in its slow, wide meander through the prairie, we crawled along the rising/falling river bluff road with the occasional and unfriendly (or there just to keep you on your toes) bump. After leaving all traces of civilization behind, we saw a few more hippos out in an open, but inaccessible river flat. They were taking a break from the water and having some lunch of their own.

Some impalas on the other side

“Their skin is sensitive to the sun,” said our guide, Fanuel.

Good thing their eyes and nostrils are atop their heads, then, allowing for maximum submersion in the water, as this hippo a hundred yards up river demonstrated:

Hippos live in the water. Elephants don’t. But we were lucky to encounter, just a couple hundred yards further, these other, massive grey African mammals using the river for their daily indulgence.

The bluff rose a bit before us. As we crept up the path rocking back and forth with the rougher road like what you might see on a jeep commercial, we were rewarded for our brave ascent with a proximate, lone giraffe eating off of a tree at the bluff edge–a lovely sight with the river beyond and below.

Just beyond the giraffe was a recess cutting into the bluff and mimicking a boat landing, the ramp of dirt graduating down into the river. Then in the prairie off to the left, a herd of elephants old and young made their way toward that recess. We had stopped just shy of the giraffe to watch the elephants make their approach.

Who wants to go to the river? “We do!”

The giraffe conveniently decided to move on, allowing us to take its place on the rise. From there, we viewed the elephants in the water.

Then we drove around to the top of the “landing” and viewed the elephants from a—debatably—better angle.

Indeed, they used this river as a toilet as well.

But some would turn and offer a profile pose of them quenching their thirst.

For a change of pace and animal family, we spotted this striking water bird in the distance:

Soon the elephants walked back on shore and dusted themselves off (or “on”, as the case was.)

Leaving the elephants to dust-frolic, we continued along the river.

Just after the landing, another dip in the road signified a little creek crossing beneath our path with greener plants accompanying its edge. At the bottom of the dip, we looked to the right and saw a hippo closer than any before. Unfortunately, it’s orientation made it more of a hippo-bottom-us.

It didn’t move.

“Is is dead?” I asked.

Our guide, Fanuel, noted with binoculars the scarring on its back.

“It’s in the sun too long,” he said reminding us of the hippo’s sensitive skin.

“Aww, poor thing,” said one of the girls.

Someone speculated it might have died trying to get to the river. Or maybe the scars were from an attack. Soon, predators would be on it, I thought.

Continuing to look, Fanuel said it was now moving. I looked through the binoculars to see it breathing.

Still, Fanuel was curious about its choice to lie in the high sun. These were animals that largely prefer being submerged during the day time due to their delicate skin.

“Let’s get out and push it.” I thought.

“Or why don’t the giraffes and elephants give it a hand?” I said aloud.

We continued on the path putting the struggling hippo out of our minds. We did so along the path that by now started to veer away from the river and into an apparent zebra/impala convention.

unicorn impala

“Let’s meet Friday the 6th at 3pm in the open prairie by the monster trees,” I’m assuming they agreed.

We didn’t register, but then we also didn’t take any of the complimentary food. All we did was steal a few shots.

A couple stowaway birds as well

We made a large circle and then back through the same river road. At that dip for the little creek, we looked out this time to our left to see about the poor hippo.

It was gone.

Wait, no it wasn’t. It was in the creek. We saw it dive down when we stopped. Every so often it would surface; I’m pretty sure to let us photograph it. ;)

I have no clue why the scarred up beast lie in the sun like that. Any hippo experts out there care to fill us in?

As this point, our largely isolated tour was interrupted by two safari cars requiring us to back up from our lane as it narrowed at this creek. It put the kibosh to our hippo viewing, but was a good opportunity for Fanuel to ask these guides about lions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much luck for finding big cats—the one drawback from the day. But only a fool would focus on part of glass unfulfilled when our safari contained such a volume of amazing sights.

***

We drove all the way back to the big river bridge near the edge of the park. Like our stop for tea on the way into the park, we stopped along this rest area where this time our guides, Fanuel and his wife, Kathy, broke open a cool watermelon.

Curious about the croc we saw on our way in, we looked down over the wooden fence atop the bluff to see that it was still there with its mouth open in the current. Was it like this all day? From watching the giraffes stare at us for what seemed like unending amounts of time to the spiders I’ve observed completely still for similar seeming infinities at my village school, this crocodile’s contentment to just be in this same place/position for hours further solidified the idea that animals are patient and content with things as they are—strikingly dissimilar to the minds of man.

Looking down there one last time, I did catch a possible incentive the animal’s maintenance. I saw two foot-long, lizard-like creatures dart onto one of the river’s edge rocks and then chase each other under another rock and out of sight. They were baby crocs. And it was suddenly a very good thing that Fanuel warned me to stay on this side of the fence from the get go.

It was now time for us to get going.

[Fanuel and Kathy served as a wonderful team of guides. If you are ever in need of a safari guide in East Africa, look them up. They run Breakdown Safaris and can be reached at info@breakdownsafaris.com]

We drove the 90 minutes back to our home base of Iringa as dusk’s curtain fell on the spotlight of the sun.

Let me now turn on the lights, camera, and action with this video of the day, a day we spent seeing some of the most amazing animals and habitat on earth.

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3 Responses to “Safari Final: Elephants in the River and a Short Film on Our Day”

  1. Renee Binkley says:

    Awesome video. Like watching “Oh boy, Nature”!

  2. Bev Klein says:

    What a great post. I loved the video. You are quite the photographer.
    Safe traveling Brandon.

  3. Maggie Ferdig says:

    Very cool! The animals were enjoyed by all the kids!

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