National Geographic calls Gabon ‘the land of the surfing hippos’. I am sure it is quite incredible to see them in the ocean , but so far I have seen only hippos’ ears sticking out of the lagoon water. My absolutely favourite animal in Gabon, which I have the pleasure of watching almost every day, is the elephant.
Here we have forest elephants. They are smaller and darker than their savanna relatives, the bush elephants, and have smaller and more rounded ears. Its tusks are straighter and harder and have a more yellow or brownish colour.
I will always remember my first encounter with elephants here. We just moved into our house in October, 2014. It was during rainy season, so the mango trees started to bring their fruits. Naturally these delicious sweets attract a lot of elephants. One evening as the sun was going down and the light was becoming slightly red, two big elephants came into my garden and started a fight.
As I did not have anything planted yet, I was not much worried about the damage. I just grabbed my camera and made photos of those magnificent Giants just some 15 meters away from me. I could not believe it was happening right in front of me. It was truly amazing and a breathtaking experience. It was the only time I have ever seen wild forest elephants so close in daylight.
Another occasion of seeing a huge elephant close as up to 10 meters was on a boat trip to a place called Sette Cama. We went on a boat ride looking for hippos, but saw an elephant crossing the river. He looked calm and we decided to get closer. As soon as the elephant noticed us, he started approaching our boat slowly. Although our experienced guide was confident and steered the boat away not to disturb the animal, I had chills down my spine. Soon I realised that I did not have to zoom in on the elephant any more, then I wanted my distance back. I made those great shots though!
It is absolutely unforgettable to see an elephant in such proximity in the wild. They are gorgeous and amazing animals, I cannot stop admiring already for so long.
One of my favourite is to see a full African elephant family with cute babies following their moms.
They travel in smaller groups than other elephant species. A typical group size consists of 2 to 8 individuals. It is very touching to see how protective the big elephants are of their little ones. They usually try to keep them in the middle of the group. The average family unit is 3 to 5 individuals, usually made up of female relatives. Most family groups are a mother and several of her offsprings. Unlike African savanna elephants, African forest elephants do not usually interact with other family groups. Male African forest elephants tend to be solitary and only associate with other elephants during the mating season. Males have a dominance hierarchy based on size.
It is quite special, but here in Gamba, a small town of about 8000 people, in search for food these wild forest-dwelled elephants come very close to people. They have learned to tip over the garbage bins for vegetables wastes, to ruin gardens and plantations and even to break into a local bakery for the freshly baked baguettes. Nevertheless, we love to see them here and we have learned to live next to each other, respecting the boundaries. Only in this way we can keep it in balance for the best of both worlds.