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At the feet of a Super Tusker

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

“ I just want to see them. I don’t care if I can’t make a good photo. I just want to get the opportunity to see them.”


These were my thoughts as we sped towards the point where we had heard Craig was.


That was the previous evening.


I had kept my camera aside and watched, slack jawed, as this magnificent creature ambled across the track we were on and disappeared into the dusk.


The next morning, found me, lying on my stomach with Craig just about 10-15 feet away, contentedly giving his total attention to the bush in front of him.


Wait… I guess, in my excitement, I am getting ahead of myself.


Craig is amongst the more famous of the famous group of super tuskers that have achieved celebrity status.


So, what’s a super tusker, you might ask ? Apparently, if an elephant has to qualify to be called a super tusker, its tusks have to weigh at least 45 kgs.

Close up view of Tusks of a super tusker


Once, these spectacular animals roamed freely all across the continent but, thanks to the familiar story of man’s greed, are now restricted mostly to the Amboseli ecosystem and, even here, only a small number of them live. I have heard estimates of just 12-15 super tuskers.


Kenya has been keeping these remaining animals under close supervision but these are animals in the wild and it is not possible to keep a 24x7 watch on them. In April, 2022, a famous super tusker, Tolstoy, presumably wandered off for a feast to one of the farms and got speared by the farmer who was protecting his crop. A few weeks later, in spite of the care that he received, Tolstoy died from the infection that the injury caused.


One really doesn’t know how long we will continue to have these incredible creatures amongst us. That IS a lot of tusk !!


Just in case, a tusk weighing 45 kgs doesn’t quite paint the picture for you, let me help out. Tolstoy had tusks that grazed the ground when he stood tall. Craig’s tusks are 6’ plus in length. That’s taller than your average person. That’s a lot of tusk !!


Our plans for the next day had changed completely once we saw Craig. He was ambling in the general direction of the Tawi conservancy and those in the know of his behavior had a good idea where he would be found in the morning.


Naturally, we were headed there.


We entered the conservancy, and a jovial tracker, David, jumped into our vehicle and with unerring precision took us to where Craig was.


For the next few hours, we obediently followed his directions.


You can get off the vehicle. We did.


You can lie down here. We did.


Get up and move. We did.


It was a mind blowing experience.


To lie down on the ground and watch a massive elephant looming up just 10-15 feet away from you, gives you a rush that is unparalleled.


My mind was a cauldron of a mishmash of unrelated thoughts.


Thoughts of how magnificent this creation was ( just look at that tremendously weathered skin ! ) merged seamlessly with wonder at our total trust on our tracker who had okayed our lying on the ground so close to Craig ( does a wild elephant know about the confidence that David, our tracker, had in him ? ) and after flirting briefly with the question of what he must be thinking of us, just as smoothly morphed into anxiety about the quality of images I was creating. ( obviously, now that I have seen Craig enough, I was back to being obsessed about getting a good image :) )


I wasn’t getting any decent image. He was either standing in the bushes, or he was moving in narrow spaces between the bushes, none of which made a good frame.

Head on view of a  super tusker

We just weren't getting a clean shot... And, then he turned towards us


And, then he started walking towards us.


Cutting across in front of us, he ambled to the next bush that had caught his eye, cursorily glancing at us as he passed. I clicked away furiously as he approached and at some point, my wide angle lens could not fit his massive frame.


I looked up. Craig must have been just 5-6 feet away.


To see such a giant, towering above you, walking softly, swaying gently…how does one even begin to describe that !

wide angle view of a super tusker Craig

Just imagine...looking up at such a magnificent beast from this perspective !


A little later, we were crouched on the ground, a largish pit in front of us and Craig was there almost right above us. Surreal.

Black and white photo of Craig the super tusker

Crouching on the ground and a 5 ton elephant right above you !


Fortunately, Craig is one of the gentlest souls around and was more focused on...eating !!


It was finally decided to call it a day and move on. We had spent the better part of the entire morning with Craig and as we drove back to our resort, my mind was a curious maelstrom of awe, gratitude and worry if I could get a good enough image that could capture the beauty of this beast.


Our tryst with super tuskers, however, didn’t end with Craig.


Later, that evening, we were near our favorite waterhole and while the zebras and the giraffes traced their familiar paths to the waterholes, our attention was caught by the large shapes that we would see through the dust and the bushes.


Three…or maybe, there were four elephants and one of them was a super tusker.


The only question was whether they would come closer to us before the sun went down.


Some days are good. And, some, are even better than good.


A single elephant tore himself away from his group and walked towards us.


It was the super tusker. Vronsky.

Vronsky. Even the name has some serious cool vibes, doesnt it ?


He stood a little ahead, ears flapping gently, occasionally dousing himself in dust in an absent minded manner. We could discern the unambiguous shapes of his mates behind him as Vronsky stood there, lost in thought, contemplating his next move.


Not for the first time, I wondered about these creatures, their phlegmatic nature, their fury and felt incredibly grateful just for being able to observe them at such close distance.

Vronsky the super tusker in the evening

And, then he moved towards us...don't you FEEL that wrinkled, weatherbeaten skin ?


As he approached, I switched to my wide angle lens and attempted to create images from my position in the back of the vehicle. I was finding it very difficult to fit him in my frame. Just then I felt our vehicle moved and I took my eye off the camera to know why.


Vronsky was just next to our vehicle. His tusks were within touching distance. I wouldn’t have had to even fully stretch my left arm to touch his tusks.


Phew.

I was trying to get the sun in the right position to get the burst effect...the horizon went topsy turvy as I tried to fit Vronsky into the frame...but, a good photo is just a bonus, its the experience that matters


No wonder I was unable to fit him in my frame.


He wanted to cross the track in between the two vehicles and was requesting for some space and , of course, we moved.


I watched him unhurriedly move away, a lumbering giant, the setting sun pushing him into the deep shadows and, not for the first time, I wondered, where will our world end ?


Would the generations following us, have the opportunity to feel the same rush of emotion that I did as a super tusker walked past them ? How long would these wonderful creatures roam around their land ? Would we give enough space for the incredible creatures that also own this earth ? How many crucial battles will we win against the mindless development powered by greed and create some space where they too can thrive ?


Only time will tell.


It’s a tough battle.


It’s easy to lose hope.


But, then – how can we ?


 

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