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A European moving to Botswana…

Mon 11 Mar 2019

As a reserve we are happy and proud to have – since almost two years – a full time researcher, veterinarian and volunteer coordinator on the team, Gabriella from Italy. She takes us back to the moment that she made her first acquaintance with Limpopo-Lipadi:

“For a European to move to Botswana is a life-changing experience; exciting and challenging at the same time. When I took that decision, I probably had no idea what I was going to commit to. I will forever remember the first days and all the first encounters with the different species that live in the reserve, as well as the fascinating effects that those encounters had on me.

The very first day that I was finally allowed to drive all by myself, I was the most excited person on earth. I was now able to look for the elephants and the wild dogs that were going to change my life. At that time I had been in Limpopo-Lipadi for a month, but I still needed to learn my way around. When I arrived at a waterhole, there were no animals close by, except a tower of giraffes about 200m away. I could barely see their long necks over the bushes. My entire university career I had been studying animal behaviour and fascinated about all the animal species. So I decided to stay there and record the giraffes’ approach and the potential reaction to my vehicle. I parked close to a water reservoir, waited and studied. 45 minutes passed before one big giraffe bull decided that I was not a threat and finally reached the waterhole at about 30 meters away from my vehicle. During the following hour all of the giraffes came to drink and slowly moved away in the opposite direction. All except the last one, that was peacefully drinking when she all of the sudden jumped up and ran away to rejoin her group.

I immediately looked behind me as I thought that that giraffe must have been scared by something approaching, and that was the case. I was so focused on the giraffes, and the birds were so many and so loud that I failed to hear anything else. I found myself looking at three elephant bulls at about 50 meters behind my vehicle. I knew all the theory: flapping ears, little kicks on the ground would mean that the elephants were not happy to meet me on their way. But these bulls seemed more puzzled than me. They obviously wanted to get to the water, but were not sure what to do. I looked at all the emergency option, escape route was clear, both for the elephants and for me, I was not blocking their way, and they had multiple options to approach and leave the water regardless my vehicle being relatively close to the water. So I decided to do exactly what I was there for, study their behaviour. I grabbed my notebook and started taking notes: body position, estimate distance, time, trunk movements, animals’ reaction to the vehicle, and so on. I could sense the hesitation on the elephants’ side, they kept pulling up their trunks in what is called “periscope behaviour”, pointing the nostril in my direction, looking at each other and slowly oscillating on their feet. Ten minutes went by, when the biggest bull stopped sniffing the air, shook his head, which made me get worried, but then stepped towards the water. To get to the water from the position where they were, they actually had to get a few meters closer to me. My hand was hurting from all the notes I was taking. The rest of the encounter was fantastic, the elephants had decided to ignore me entirely and were now happily drinking. They left slowly without looking back, with a relaxed and slow pace that elephants have when going back to forage. My heart could finally slow down.”