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Hemingway Adventure

Amboseli National Park, Kenya (second day)

 
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Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureJackson wears his Masai cloak, red with yellow stripe, thong sandals, and a coloured bead head-strap. Ali is in his green safari gear.

The presence of any large animals is advertised in advance by numbers of white birds called cattle egrets that ride the big game around with a proprietary air. The bigger and heavier the creature the more the egrets like them, for their feet break up the soil and bring to the surface fresh supplies of the locusts, flies and grasshoppers on which the birds feed.

There are maybe a dozen elephant, including young, making their way slowly towards their next meal. They have almost insatiable appetites. A fully-grown elephant chews up 300 lbs of vegetation and drinks thirty to fifty gallons of water every day, but their metabolism is poor and less than half what they eat is digested. So they make their way across the bush rather like a line of combine harvesters, stuffing it one end and depositing it, semi-digested, from the other.

Jackson and Ali approach the herd slowly and carefully. Elephants’ eyesight, like their digestion, leaves something to be desired. They walk with their head and eyes down and are more likely to see you approach from the back or the side than they are from the front.

Ali says you can get to within a dozen feet of a herd if you’re upwind of them. He bends down, picks up a handful of dust and tosses it in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

As he does so the elephants’ ears flap and their highly sensitive trunks are up sniffing for trouble.

As there are young with them Ali keeps his distance. I’m not complaining, just watching them is therapeutic. Elephants have a combination of mass and grace that is impressive and compelling. When they are threatened they can transform their bulk to a powerhouse of aggression which, once seen, is something always respected and never forgotten. Even Hemingway would never shoot an elephant.

The lion is another thing altogether.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Amboseli National Park, Kenya (second day)
  • Country/sea: Kenya
  • Place: Amboseli National Park
  • Book page no: 165

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