SEMINAL ELEPHANT INTERACTION VIDEO - EXPLAINED
As an elephant conservationist I’ve travelled far and wide exploring their behaviour and conservation. From the elephant capital of the universe; Okavango and Chobe … to the so called 'Dark Heart of Africa'; Zakouma in Chad and the remarkable story of recovery … to the desert-adapted herds in Namibia. And beyond.
I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of these places. I've met people at many ground zeros; conservationists, scientists, guides, hunters, local villagers, farmers, poachers and ex-poachers. I’ve got to know a lot of elephants, all of whom have stories to tell.
Stories of intelligence, endurance, calamity and wonder; from beyond the frontier. A frontier not only in the literal sense, but also perhaps the outer limits of our understanding of these remarkable animals, and what is at stake.
The video of Alan McSmith’s amazing interaction with a wild elephant while out on foot, has gone viral with over 50 million views. It not only indicates the value of a cool head out in the bush and over 30 years of wildlife guiding experience, but also the unique intelligence of elephants.
As a professional safari guide, Alan will never provoke an animal in any way. But in reality, nature and animal behaviour is totally unpredictable, and it is during these critical moments that Alan's empathetic and humble experience is crucial. This is what the video shows. In this instance, by choosing to stand his ground, Alan was able to defuse the tense encounter. The way the elephant turns and slowly moves off at the end of the sequence, totally calm and relaxed, is a testimony to this.
The footage beautifully demonstrates an elephant’s advanced sentiency and complex behaviour. “The video is an ideal platform to showcase this sense of wonder that elephant have, and to celebrate their capacity to connect with humans on a level not normally considered. It is a wonderful example of trust across a divide,” explains Alan.
The video, and the story surrounding it, demonstrates the necessity for us to think more meaningfully about elephant conservation.
THE STORY BEHIND IT
The video is a one-in-a-million encounter. It is authentic and the elephant is wild, not trained as many keyboard commentators claim. Neither is there a pit or glass partition between us, or a SWAT team behind me. It's amusing what I read on social media!
As a wilderness guide i strive to avoid confrontations with wild animals, and in 30 years of guiding, have never deliberately provoked one. The default reaction of wild animals, including big game, is to avoid encounters with humans.
However, the reality is that things do not always go according to the book.
Then what? As a guide, and have to deal with the scenario before you.
With all the hindsight in the world, would not have done anything differently. I did not get myself into a situation, i got myself and our trail party out of one. How evenly the bull walks away at the end, comfortable enough to turn his back on us, is a testament to this. I would NEVER suggest that anyone tries this! If you are a guide then i urge you to use extreme caution whilst walking.
In the jungles of social media sensationalism, proper context is often a casualty. It took me 18 months to post the video online because of this, but i wanted to share the wonder of elephants. Therefore i urge you all to look beyond and recognize the significance of meaningful wilderness encounters. That modern man still shares a kinship with the wild. That our natural world … and its conservation … is absolutely essential to our well-being. That in order to maintain our own respect and dignity, we must treat our environment in the same way.
My message is about a transformative view of elephant awareness. And wilderness conservation. It is time to view these animals through a different lens, a lens that also incorporates our own wholeness and sacred attitudes. The encounter was after all about the elephant, not me
To showcase and view elephant through a transformational lens, a lens absolutely essential to understand their complexity, ecological value and special intelligence. To share the darkness of their conservation pitfalls. To challenge contemporary beliefs systems that they have to ‘pay their way’ to remain part of landscapes. To be a voice for the silenced.
Just as they are keystone to an ecological circuit, they are keystone to a greater awareness. An awareness of the threat to all wildlife. They are ambassadors in a sense. Ambassadors of an ecological process and also of an ancient order of empathy, both of which are fundamentally connected to our well being.