Ten-time WT alum Jeannée Sacken set out on The Great Elephant Migration from Botswana to Zimbabwe and marveled at one particularly memorable day, which started out with a visit to a nearby grade school, and wrapped up over cocktails, in view of hundreds of elephants congregating at a watering hole. Her photos made us smile.
Deep within Hwange National Park, Jozibanini (aka “Jozi”) is the most remote camp in Zimbabwe, and possibly in Africa. Heaven on Earth. We’re up early every day, but today’s morning agenda doesn’t include elephants. We’re leaving the park for an even more remote spot—St. Joseph School. Probably not a single kid in the village has visited the park or seen a giraffe or a hippo—maybe not even an elephant.
The kids are on school holiday, but at least 120 of them come to our ‘play day.’ We’re bringing a special lunch treat—jam sandwiches and Mazoe Orange Crush—and best of all, soccer balls and netballs. Up until today, the kids have tied together plastic bags to play ball.
Girls in Zimbabwe love netball—a loose variation of basketball but without the net.
We have as much fun as they do. They serenade us with songs and recite poems composed for this special day. But the big surprise is to still to come: three seventh-grade girls present us with chickens to take home. The girls are clearly relieved when, on the spur of the moment, we establish “The Great Chicken Project,” designating them to care for these gorgeous hens and their future broods.
The magic of the day has only just begun. On our two-hour drive back to Jozi, hundreds of elephants emerge from the bush. Their great migration from the now-dried-up watering holes of the park’s western reaches is in full swing. They’re making their way to Jozibanini—the watering hole the matriarchs remember from the old days—where they’ll be able to drink, socialize, and most importantly, survive until the rains come again in November.
Breeding herds and bulls patiently line up to wait their turn at the pumped bore holes for the “best” (cleanest) water.
When long parted friends or family members meet, they trumpet and put their trunks in each other’s mouths.
One of the things that is special about Jozi is the “blind” (an old cargo container partially buried in the ground right next to the bore holes). Late in the afternoon, we make our way to this fabulous viewing spot to find a breeding herd of elephants waiting for us. They back off, letting us climb inside to our sundowner gin and tonics and a chance to observe their family dynamics.
Inside the blind, we look up at elephant toenails, ducking when they spray water and mud in our direction. Although they’re desperately thirsty, adults step aside for babies and juveniles, some of whom have to kneel to get their short trunks far enough down the bore hole to reach water.
One baby can’t quite stay on her feet in the slippery mud.
She squeals loudly, and her mother and aunties lend comforting trunks. But a few minutes later, she’s back for more. This time she slides on purpose, clearly having a lot of fun.
In all the chaos, one calf loses his family and runs from herd to herd, seeming to say: “Are you my mother?”
Some calves take comfort by shyly standing between Mom and Auntie while they drink their fill.
Through it all, a lilac breasted roller oversees the teeming masses from a nearby, well-polished, elephant rubbing post. A moment later, he’ll be swatted off by a teething juvenile elephant.
As the sun sets, some zebra and a kudu skittishly approach the watering hole.
We all watch as a gorgeous sunset closes the day. Cheers!
—Text and photos by 10-time WT adventurer Jeannée Sacken, The Great Elephant Migration.