Views at an Elephant Watering Hole

The females come first.

With an older one leading the herd, a parade of massive grey bodies meander towards the water. It’s time for the elephants to go to the watering hole. The lead is followed by a baby elephant, barely reaching the first one’s knees and taking triple the steps of the others. Two younger females follow. Then, from out of the bush, Nanna, the matriarch towers by. She walks right at the game vehicle, like she’ll walk through it, and the Guide drives the car slightly forward. She saunters on, victorious.

The ladies reach the watering hole and begin to drink. They’re thirsty so they aren’t ready to play just yet. The larger ones lazily place their trunks over the concrete walls of the pool, into the fresh water while the youngster cranes his head to have his little trunk just reach the surface. The youngest must drink out of the puddles on the ground while she follows her mother around the pool. One of the older elephants scratches her trunk against the hard pool, pauses, and then uses her trunk to scratch her leg. The rest slowly throw back as many gulps of water down as they can with their long trunks.

The matriarch blows half of her trunk full of water out and suddenly the fun begins. One elephant blows bubbles in the water. One sprays down her feet. An adolescent walks back and forth over the puddles as she finds the best position at the pool. An older elephant knows the best spot, placing her trunk just so at the entrance of the pipe so she gets the freshest water.

The Matriarch pauses her trunk mid drink and leaves it raised in the air. Slowly, all the other elephants follow and they turn their upright trunks together, like Nanna. Dust clouds rise in the distance and suddenly, two large ears in the shape of Africa appear. It’s boss, the largest bull elephant. He ambles towards the pool along the center path. Every animal head turns towards the giant. One younger female barely reaching his shoulder walks to meet Baas halfway, and the welcoming ritual begins.

She puts her trunk into Baas’ mouth and he lazily waves her off. He arrives at the pool and heads straight towards the matriarch’s prestigious position. She blows out a warning guttural, ancient sound and all the elephants turn to watch how the confrontation will play out. Will the matriarch, who is in charge of the herd, keep her position against the bull taller than her? He bullies his way through the elephants half his size. A young elephant runs to Nanna in confusion but Nanna keep her eyes trained on Baas. He finally makes it around the pool and swings his large trunk towards the matriarch. Nanna takes an involuntary step back but holds her ground. Baas takes another swipe and finally, Nanna is forced to turn away in defeat.

Nanna shows her back to Baas but he continues to bother her. He wants the spot completely to himself. In a last effort, she urinates and Baas smells it to sense her mood. He turns to the pool, finally understanding that he has been dismissed and is not welcome in the girl group.

Unfazed, Baas takes the biggest gulps of them all and the oblivious young one nurses from Nanna. The other females eye Baas’ slobbering trunk and pack up to leave, following the disapproving matriarch. Baas doesn’t seem bothered, and continues to drink the water. The herd moves on.

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