Etosha National Park, an arid, salty-white landscape in northern Namibia, is home to the world’s largest elephants. Size is relative; the only true measure is to stand next to one. So here I am in Etosha, face to face with a full-grown bull elephant. How is it possible? How have I not been squashed?
The secret lies in the pane of elephant-proof glass between us. I am in the hide at Olifantsrus Camp; the elephant drinks from the waterhole immediately on the other side of the window. He appears to be aware of me, but thirst is his greater concern. He sucks huge quantities of water into his trunk, then hoses it into his mouth. I gaze up, awestruck.
My lifelong passion for wildlife has taken me all over the world, giving me many memorable encounters. Few have been as close as this. In any venture into the wilds, you need to adhere to two overriding priorities: Minimize disturbance to the animals and ensure your own safety. This remarkable hide gives you proximity without compromising those priorities.
Later, from the hide’s upper level, we look directly down on a lioness as she drinks. We can hear every lap of her tongue and can see her tawny hide shudder in response to the flies buzzing around her. Melodic birdsong provides the soundtrack as the sun sets and the light fades. Eventually the lioness pads off into the advancing dusk as another elephant herd cautiously makes its way toward the waterhole. The end of an unforgettable day.
We travel for many reasons. Whether on business or for leisure, experiencing different places and cultures is endlessly enriching. But traveling to watch wildlife adds an extra dimension. Nothing can be taken for granted. You can spend hours looking with no reward, or you can have a once-in-a lifetime encounter. Nothing is guaranteed, and anything is possible.
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