What It’s Like to Go On a Once-in-a-Lifetime African Safari (Photos)

I was in the African Serengeti with travel companies Abercrombie and Kent and Sanctuary Retreats for all of 10 minutes before we heard the baby elephant’s panicked trumpeting in the distance. The grass was high enough that we could only see the tops of its ears and its tiny trunk moving back and forth. a periscope under a lone acacia tree.

“It’s lost its mother,” said Filbert, our cheerful guide, stopping the truck. The “I’m-on-safari!!!!” enthusiasm among my fellow travelers waned quickly to concern. One of the first rules on safari: You cannot interfere with the wildlife. “Let’s watch,” said Filbert.

You imagine all kinds of things when you think of an African safari. Lions killing zebras, charging rhinos, temperamental ostrich — Africa is supposed to give you all the feels, but a baby elephant separated from its mother within a half-hour of landing in Tanzania seemed overwhelming. A gruesome thought occurred to me: “Could a lion take down a baby elephant?” I asked Filbert.

“Wait just a minute,” said Filbert, scanning the horizon.

The Serengeti is flat. In fact, were it not for large acacia trees, a handful of gazelles, and some zebra we’d see on the runway when we landed, you could easily mistake it for Oklahoma. The expanse went on for miles. At 11 feet tall, were the mother elephant to be anywhere in sight, we’d surely have been able to see it. The little elephant’s panic went on an uncomfortably long amount of time until Filbert finally spotted something.

“There she is,” said Filbert. We peered into the vacant expanse until, finally, a spot of gray appeared on the horizon. The baby continued to trumpet restlessly and wildly, almost violently, as the dot moved towards us, transforming from speck to mother elephant stampeding towards her lost calf. After more than five minutes, the baby caught sight of her mom and broke into a sprint. We held our breaths until finally the pair were reunited. The two twirled around one another, intertwining trunks in a celebratory reunion. The mother belting out joyfully to the herd, more than a mile away.  “She’s letting the herd know the baby is okay,” said Filbert. “It’s all better now.”

The spellbound safari-goers and I watched the tender spectacle as though it was somehow staged. We searched for words, failing to find them. “Welcome to the Serengeti,” said Filbert, firing up the safari truck and putting it in gear. And so began my first adventure in Africa. Over 10 days — with the help of Sanctuary Retreats and Abercrombie and Kent — I would visit Serengeti National Park and Tarangire National Park of Tanzania, as well as Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.

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