A large elephant emerged from behind one of the chalets. We heard one of the owners of the South Luangwa lodge we were staying at say “Oh, this elephant is quite unconventional, stay still. Don’t move!” From our seat on the very edge of the patio we watched silently as the elephant moved toward us. As it stopped in front of us the scale was apparent. It’s head was larger than our head and torso combined with tusks stretching on for what felt like forever. I stayed frozen as the huge beast sniffed all over Leckie, brushing its trunk against his arm. Then, knocking Leckie’s wine glass over, it moved on to me. My heart pounded as it sniffed me and I closed my eyes to quell a moment of panic.
Satisfied that we weren’t food, the elephant then continued past us and into the dining room where it ate the food of several guests, who had moved out of the way whilst we were being inspected. Another elephant just as large followed and they rummaged around together before eventually moving on. Once the food was gone they inspected some garbage bins and threw the toilet door open. Luckily nobody was in there.
Another couple we met managed to film some of this. The video was taken at night by a scared person, so the quality isn’t amazing. But you get the point.
Aside from a few plates, unbelievably nothing was damaged. I can’t believe how gracefully they move, not even seeming to crush dry leaves underfoot. Grace aside, they are truly formidable. There was one point when we were between the large female and her baby, which was more than a little alarming.
As soon as the elephants left, the room erupted with excitement. People ran over to us to commended us on staying calm, while other guests took stock of their missing dinners. Apparently the elephants have only stolen food from the lodge eight times in the past four years, but twice in the last week! The owners mention that this particular family may be tranquilised and moved soon as they are getting too bold. Almost immediately, an electric wire was strung up around the bar area, as the staff were worried that the herd would return to devour the replacement meals they cooked.
Just as the excitement was dying down I heard a rustle in the dark in front of me. Thinking it was more elephants I froze until the creature came into view. Hippo!! It had come up from the river to graze on the grass at the lodge, about 15 metres from where I sat with my newly poured wine. “We haven’t had a hippo in weeks!” exclaimed the staff as we sat open mouthed, unable to believe our luck.
If you’re interested in having your own close encounters with Africa wildlife on a budget, we would thoroughly recommend Marula Lodge, South Luangwa, Zambia (and we haven’t even been paid to).