Kayaking with Elephants
By: Lizzie Odegaard
Mugie is the epitome of “fun for the whole family”. With game drives and walks, fishing, walks with the bloodhounds, swimming, golf, and visiting Tala the giraffe, there is no shortage of things to do, but kayaking with the Mugie elephants that is a particularly awe-inspiring experience.
Heading off from the western shore where we put the kayaks in the water, we have the wind behind us and make quick progress across the 100+ acre dam. To our right is “Egret Island”, a small bit of land rising out of the water, covered in reeds and often decorated with the snowy white of hundreds of Egrets that perch upon them. We carry on toward the second, larger island (known simply as “The Island”). Coming up over the brow of the hill, from the other side of the island, stomps a large bull elephant. He often swims out here for the lush green grass – the swim is no small feat, a substantial distance and deep enough that even an elephant can’t reach the bottom. Carrying on around the island to the south end of the dam we see a dust cloud in the distance and arrive at the narrowing estuary where the water overflows into a stream that runs south through the conservancy. When the dust clears, a herd of elephants comes into focus before us and our trusty guide, George, without speaking and with a few hand motions, so as not to startle the elephants, directs us down-wind of the herd. We hold fast to a tree, it’s braches sticking out of the water to offer an anchor. And we watch as the herd comes down to the water, drinking at first, long trunks reaching below the surface to fill with water and then curling back and pour into their open mouths. Grey wrinkled skin becomes brown with the spray that they blow over their dusty backs, a sprinkler of the best sort.
The calves get a free pass down to the front of the herd, pushing their way into the water to cool off and flee the hot sun, with the confidence of a baby that knows it is beloved by its protective herd of giants. We watch as the calves, with an overestimation of their swimming abilities, march into the water, splashing and causing a great ruckus as they attempt to swim. The mothers come to help, their calves grabbing onto their tails for balance, and to help them stay afloat. They playfully splash and push each other, spray one another, and dunk down into the water, letting the coolness wash over them. They wrestle and play until every hot and wrinkled back has been cooled, the dust washed away, and thirst sated. And then they start their slow procession out of the water, two youngsters straggling behind as they roughhouse until the last possible moment, the cloud of dust following the herd as they move away.
Exchanging looks of wonder, we paddle back to the main island. The bull elephant leaves as we get near, swimming for the main shore, his trunk held above the water like a snorkel as his head bobs below the surface. Pulling the kayaks up, we clamber out onto the bank and up to the top of the island, where we set out a delicious picnic in the shade. We all take great joy in reliving our this remarkable adventure over our meat pies.