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Elephants: the big feisty giants

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Elephants have the power to amaze and mesmerise. Bushwise student Oryx Nauwelaers shares his experience with getting to know these gentle giants even better. 

Camp manager blogs are written by our current students who each get a chance to lead and manage a group (of their fellow students) for a period of one week.

Growing up I was the stereotypical kid who liked lions and leopards, and never paid much attention to other animals. But after joining Bushwise, that changed very quickly.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Who names their kid Oryx?” If it makes you feel any better, my sister is called Nyala. My family has always been very keen on the bush. So much so that I consider it a second home. Nature always succeeded in keeping me calm and helping me clear my mind. That’s actually one of the reasons I decided to join the course.

It soon became very clear that there is so much more to safari than rushing from lions to leopards to hyenas. Don’t get me wrong, they are all great sightings. But there had to be more, right? That is when elephants piqued my interest.

Elephants can eat 150 kg of food in a day

I didn’t achieve this interest on my own – we often stayed and watched them. In the beginning the trainers always told us to cup our ears with our hands and just listen to them. Hearing them eat, shake a marula, and communicate. A smile started to form on my face and a new interest was born. 

The trainers at Bushwise are very good at sparking new interest in people and I have to admit, I strongly underestimated how difficult it is to be a field guide. Hearing countless field guides speak and tell stories about nature in such a fluent and interesting way. Thinking to myself, “How hard can it be?” But when it was my time to shine, I just froze. Words didn’t make sense and my mind was scattered. After this my respect for field guides skyrocketed and I told myself I was going to do better!

Soon it was my turn to be camp manager. Receiving my first guest, I gave a quick tour of the campus before going on our first official bush walk. It was a new experience for all of us and it is very different from sitting in a game vehicle. We all realised we were much more vulnerable and because of that had to be extremely cautious and follow strict rules.

Students learn about signs left by elephants while on a bush walk

When you are walking through the bush, you truly get the full nature experience. The walk was from campus to a nearby waterhole and took around three hours to complete. During the walk we had a total of four elephant encounters, each one getting better and better. Seeing these magnificent giants from up close, on foot, was a whole new experience that we’ll never forget. Some of them were curious, some of them were scared, but most, even after sensing our presence, remained calm and unbothered. 

At the end of the walk we came across a breeding herd that was a bit too close for comfort. As we watched the other elephants drink from the waterhole while slowly making our way back to campus, the brave male bulls kept all of us in their sight. 

The next day we encountered an elephant bull in musth. With the wind blowing in our direction, let’s just say it did not smell like roses.

A bull elephant walks away from a game viewer

There are a lot of potentially dangerous things that can happen during a bushwalk. Because of this all of us have to learn how to handle a rifle. The group was split into two – one half beginning with track and sign and the other half with rifle handling.

As someone who had never handled a rifle before it was quite a scary experience at first. Once you have the rifle in your hands, adrenaline starts pumping through your veins and you have to prevent your body from moving while trying to hit the target as perfectly as possible. In the end I managed to only miss one shot, and nearly got a bullseye, which made my day.

All in all, being a camp manager was not so different from a normal day on campus, and I hope that I get to see more of those big feisty giants.

Do you dream of elephants? Apply now and join the next class of Bushwise Professional Field Guide students!




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