Changing Planet

The Night Belonged to Ozzie

Mushara Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia — The world’s largest land creature stood on me last night—two giant feet over my head, putting me at a disturbing eye-level vantage with a dripping elephant phallus in the dark.

It has occurred to me over the course of my research that an untimely end could happen to anyone studying these larger-than-life animals, but this is not something I ever thought I’d live to tell about.

Ozzie’s powerful scent betrayed him well before he arrived. Then I heard branches breaking just outside the bunker where we hid our microphone. The heavy pounding of a musth bull’s exaggerated stride confirmed his identity as he approached us, his musthy rattling of sabers incorporating the bunker into his display. He first rubbed his hind quarters on the corner while curling his trunk over his face before giving chase to the much senior Abe and his two other adult companions that I suspect were Beckham and Prince Charles, judging from their tusks and tails. But it was so dark, my low-light binoculars weren’t good enough for me to resolve their ear cut-outs.

 

Ozzie often incorporates the environment into his musth displays, the bunker being no exception. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell.
Ozzie often incorporates the environment into his musth displays, the bunker being no exception. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

 

Ozzie has been on fire for the past three seasons, terrorizing bulls twice his size and age and defying our understanding of musth last season by successfully mate-guarding Vanessa of the Actor’s family throughout her estrus period—a prize that by all rights should have been the seasoned musth bull, Smokey’s. Last night was no exception, except that he decided to incorporate my volunteer, Nate, and I in his display as well. Being in the bunker for some sound recordings of Left Hook and her family storming the waterhole, away from the noise of camp, made us an easy target.

 

Nate Johnson and I in the bunker recording the vocalizations of a family group prior to the arrival of Ozzie. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell.
Nate Johnson and I in the bunker recording the vocalizations of a family group prior to the arrival of Ozzie. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Left Hook family scattering the others, Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell.
Left Hook family scattering the others, Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

 

Ozzie rubbed his entire belly and backside on us, then stood on us and sat on us, the sound of leather scraping against concrete almost deafening at such close quarters. He made a rattling sound in his trunk as he probed and curled it, emitting a soft musth rumble and waving his ears by the sounds of things, but my only view was of his reeking green penis sheath that dribbled over us at an alarming rate. This is not something I will forget any time soon. Fortunately, Nate is a seasoned wildlife biologist and naturalist and sat next to me without making a sound, both of us exhilarated at our good fortune at being in such close yet safe proximity to this testosterone-doped fellow.

 

Left Hook family scattering the others. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell.
Left Hook family scattering the others. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

 

After a long slow drink and much musthy deliberation below the Milky Way, he finally walked off west after all the families that had come and gone, releasing us from our station and returning the night to Ozzie.

 

Part of the team, Josh, Nate and Natalie replacing the branches over the microphone that Ozzie had removed in the night. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell.
Part of the team, Josh, Nate and Natalie replacing the branches over the microphone that Ozzie had removed in the night. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

 

Dr. Caitlin O’Connell is a faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine and a world-renowned expert on elephants.  Her twenty five years of research has resulted in numerous scientific publications and five popular books, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense. The Elephant Scientist won five awards, including both the Sibert and Horn Book Honors. An Elephant’s Life and A Baby Elephant In The Wild depict the complex social lives of elephants through images. The Elephant Don comes out next spring along with her debut novel, Ivory Ghosts. ELEPHANT KING, a documentary about her research, won the CINE Best Environment & Nature Award. Caitlin's research into seismic transmission and detection of elephant vocalizations has been funded in part by the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration. For more information, visit her nonprofit organization Utopia Scientific website (utopiascientific.org) and her author site at caitlineoconnell.com. She and her husband, Tim Rodwell, write the tumblr blog elephantskinny.tumblr.com. Also follow her on twitter: Mushara Author photo credit: Max Salomon
  • Brenda S.

    That is sincerely funny !! A truly unique experience !

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