Anita mentioned in a recent comment that her favourite photographs of ours are one of an elephant peering into the car and another of an elephant biting the spare tire. They are some of my favourites, too, for at the time I had the strangest feeling – that I was the one under observation not the elephants! I was very concious of interacting with intelligent individuals who, at that moment, had their own thoughts about me! I remember being very moved by the experience and to this day am trying to put words to that kind of conscious meeting of the minds that I felt.
The images were taken in Sri Lanka when Petter and I were invited by Lalith Seneveratne (known for his work on elephant rumble detectors and trip wires to keep elephants out of farmers fields) on a tour of elephant habitat. I remember that safari with great fondness and it holds some of my most memorable elephants experiences. Lalith took us on a two week safari to see elephants in four different national parks.
The first stop was Uda Walawe and this particular group was one of the first that we met. The adult females were quite stroppy, standing tall forming a defensive wall. At the same time they were so engaged with us – coming up close, staring at us and rumbling and touching one another. Their behavior was very like African elephants, but with some subtle and not so subtle differences that I still find so fascinating. It is these subtle differences that make me yearn for the possibility of finding a way to study Asian elephant communication.
A wall of adult females.
After the adults created a hullaballoo about us, the calves and juveniles formed a little gang of six and decended upon us. They surrounded the car and then peered in through the windows, oggling us! I had the distinct feeling of being an elephant pet. This kind of behavior – adults standing back making a commotion while the juveniles made a play thing out of us, is not typical of African elephants.
Feeling like the elephants’ pets.
Asian elephants have different eyes than African elephants whose eyelids are more prominent causing them to appear less engaged, perhaps. An African elephant (at least in the wild) has to be very curious to look you straight in the eye. But these “little” guys came over and literally studied us! I felt like a fish in a tank, or rather an animal in a cage! And then one boy goes to the rear of the car and chews on the spare tire.
A juvenile bites the spare tire.