The African Bush Elephant

The tracks of an African bush elephant!

Moses of the wilderness talks as we follow tracks in Mole National Park. He is a a wealth of knowledge.

He describes the African bush elephant’s keen sense of smell.

“If someone tries to hurt him, he will take the smell. If that person comes back again, even after many years, twenty years maybe, the elephant will remember and attack him.”

I try to remember what I ate for breakfast. (Pause.) It is already a lost cause.

“The elephant cannot see very well, but he can smell and listen.”

Moses stops and listens. We hear crashing sounds in the trees ahead. He points. We get our first view to the south end of a northbound African bush elephant.

Our first view to an elephant in the wild.

Cameras fire in bursting frenzy. After a time, they slow, calm, and stop. We stand, mesmerized. The enormous beast feeds among the trees. He reaches up with his trunk and pulls a branch down to his mouth. He chews. He is completely indifferent to our presence.

“I thought they drank through their noses,” Isaac confesses.

Despite growing up in Ghana, Isaac has never seen an elephant before. These magnificent creatures were once found across his country. Now a population of about 400 survive in this preserve.

Moses tells us there are stationary guard posts as well as armed patrols that move about the park. They fight the poachers.

“The hunters have guns. They are dangerous.”

In fact, the oldest elephant in the population disappeared recently and has not yet been found. He was very friendly. Moses thinks, however, he may have just died of old age.

“Elephants get very old. You can tell by looking at their wrinkles and how sunk in their eyes are. After their teeth are gone, they can only drink water. Then they die.”

I look for wrinkles. I see that this one only has one tusk.

Another elephant swings into view. And then a cow and a calf. A teenager, perhaps? The group seems to be moving.

Moses cautions us to keep our distance. “They do not like it if they know we are following them.”

We follow them. They arrive at another clearing and busy themselves with a new task. One rakes at the ground with a tusk.

“They are digging salt. They like to lick the salt.”

The smaller elephant digs.

One elephant drives its tusk into the earth and pulls it upward with a stout jerk. Occasionally there is a popping sound, like the snapping of tree roots.

Amanda notices how one of the elephants is missing a tusk and inquires.

Moses describes how tusks break from time to time. It can happen when they dig.

We wince. “Do they grow back?”

“Only if the elephant is young. The old ones will not grow back.”

The one who is missing a tusk is also wrinkly and his eyes are sunk in. I wonder how his teeth are?

As an animal, elephants are attested in late Hebrew, but not in the OT story. However, “ivory” (from the Hebrew term for “tooth”) does appear occasionally. It is possible that carved elephant tusks may account for some of the more exotic items known from biblical texts (e.g., 1 Kgs 10:22) and from archaeological contexts (e.g. Megiddo, Samaria).

James, our driver extraordinaire.

Moses announces it is time to go. We take final pictures and leave our new friends enjoying the salt. We hike back across the flat, through the creek, and up the hill. From the summit, we turn and catch one last view of Mole Reserve.

View from the summit. The elephants return to the water.