Everything appears large at first. There is the sound of silence on the vehicle. A real sense of awe when approaching the gentlest of giants. They may be huge, up to 6.500 kilograms. Their tusks may be intimidating, up to 3 meters in length. Slightly unpredictable, ears flapping and moving their trunk around, with about 40.000 micro muscles (a human body contains 639 muscles by comparison). But overall, there's a very grounding feeling, being amongst a huge bull elephant. A completely embodied being that is highly intelligent and with emotional complexities unknown to humans.
Elephants often make people feel as if they've 'arrived in Africa'. Most emphasis, for guides and trackers, will be on finding a herd. It is so endearing being charmed by the little ones and admiring the protective and nurturing behaviour of the matriarchs. Often people feel sad feelings upon viewing a bull elephant being solitary. In reality, the social life of bull elephants is far more complex. As young bull elephants become adolescents (between 12-15 years of age), they will start being pushed out of the herds by the older females or will start letting go of the natal herd on their own accords. These youngsters will then also leave their natural area, and with that the knowledge of finding the best feeding areas and water.
This is where it gets interesting. The newly independent bull elephants, still in puberty, will often actively search for bull elephants in older age groups (often past their prime >40 years of age). These older bulls usually don't spend as much time in musth (a time of high testosterone levels, when bull elephants are out of character being more aggressive and unpredictable in search for females on oestrus). The Askari, as a bachelor herds have been named, will form anywhere from 2 to a dozen individuals and they will spend time together for as much time as needed to develop as mature 'gentleman'.
The older bulls, also known as a 'kambaku' will be a mentor to the younger elephants. The older bull will show the younger ones many social skills, and also new behaviours, how to 'behave' as a gentle giant. The process is beautiful to watch as the massive animals show their extremely sensitive nature, showing the most subtle body signs and patience. These sentient beings show many of the best characters we envy as human beings, and it is hard not to feel tremendous emotions arise while spending time with elephants. We've seen many older bulls show the younger ones where the freshest water is, and to patiently wait near the source until the last one has had enough. The big temporal lobe, which facilitates memory, undergoes many new experiences that are handed down from the more experienced bulls.
At Motswari, we are very fortunate to regularly being visited by Askaris. While their physical presence is intimidating, it is their sentient being that is very calming. It is a profound moment having been in presence of a gentle giant.