October 9, 2020
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
By Louise Zemaitis
Going to Africa has always been an abstract idea for me. I didn’t travel much during my youth, and once I did, I concentrated on learning about the natural history of the New World. But I’ve always had an elephant in my room. Seriously. Our house is full of elephants. My younger son, Alec, adores them. He has been fascinated with these magnificent Pachyderms since being startled by their trumpeting as a toddler during a thunderstorm at the Philadelphia Zoo. He filled our house with elephants of many shapes and sizes. The most conspicuous is a massive plush stuffy which resides on the old StairMaster in our living room. It watches over us as we go through our daily routines. And reminds me of my dream to see these amazing creatures in the wild.
That dream became a reality this past winter when my husband, Michael O’Brien, and I traveled to Tanzania to co-lead a Victor Emanuel Nature Tours/Cincinnati Zoo safari with Thane Maynard. Our amicable group shared numerous awe-inspiring moments, bookended each day by spectacular sunrises and sunsets. We marveled at the enormity of ostriches and the diminutiveness of sunbirds, challenged ourselves to identify cryptic cisticolas by their vocalizations, and waxed poetic over the colors of Lilac-breasted Rollers and Superb Starlings. Daily dramas included dung beetles comically doing their thing, a Wildebeest birthing a calf, and a Hippopotamus exposing its big pink belly as it wallowed in its waterhole. We laughingly called her Rosy. So many shared experiences!
We saw many elephants during our days in the field, in so many places. Large herds at Tarangire National Park, family groups blocking the road at Lake Manyara, and an old “tusker” at Ngorongoro Crater. But it was the elephant outside of our room at Tarangire Sopa Lodge whose memory will forever make my heart soar. Michael and I were up late one night (studying and editing photos), our porch doors open to let in the evening breeze. The sounds of the night drifted in as well. First, I heard some distant rustling. Hmm. Is that the wind? The sound increased. “Michael. Do you hear something?” We walk to the screen door, and Michael turns on his flashlight. Whoa! About twenty feet away was an elephant looking straight at us, trunk full of grass, ears flapping, going about its evening foraging—right outside our room! It looked so happy, and just a bit startled. Just like us. A close encounter I will never forget! How lucky am I to have been in the presence of African Elephants!
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