At Marula Lodge, the Luangwa River is now only two metres deep in the central channel. After grazing and browsing in the Park for most of the day, family groups of elephants make the crossing into the riverside lodges situated in the Game Management Zone. They do a lot of damage to people’s gardens overnight, then go back to the Park in the morning.
After clinic on Saturday, I was sitting in the shade in a comfortable chair reading a book and generally watching the river go by. On the opposite bank, the foliage rustled and a young elephant appeared. It blazed a trail down the river bank, followed by seven other elephants of varying sizes. The group plodged into the river shallows and stopped. Their trunks curled up, sniffing the air. They seemed to be assessing the situation and were reticent to wade further into the flow.
One adolescent decided to lead the way, walked into the deeper water and ducked her head under the water. The others followed, the two infants grabbing onto the tails of bigger elephants. When they reached the deepest and fastest flowing part of the river, the smaller elephants were corralled by the bigger ones. Perhaps this was to prevent them from being taken by the crocodiles which were cruising about. Or maybe it was to stop them being swept off their feet downstream.
The first and last elephants were having a great time, squirting water and splashing about. It looked like they were really enjoying it. After about ten minutes, they decided to move forward onto the sandy mudflat below where I was sitting. They looked magnificent, marching in formation, just like the beginning of the movie, “Reservoir Dogs”. Dum, dumdumdum,dumdum,dumdum…you know the scene.
The matriarch made her way up a channel in the bank and entered the grounds of the lodge. She was followed by the rest of the group, with the young ones being nudged up the slope by the trunks of bigger elephants behind. They then set about stripping the choicest leaves from their favourite trees before wandering off to the next lodge, Track and Trail. Magical moment.