Ute Junker travelled to Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe with Bench Africa to witness the gentle giants of Hwange.
Here is her story...
At Nehimba Lodge, there are plenty of things that go bump in the night. The boutique lodge is built around a waterhole in Hwange National Park that draws animals during the day and into the evening. Some visitors, such as warthog and antelope, come and go without too much fuss. Others tend to make an entrance.
Flapping ears, thudding feet, trumpet-like call; it is hard to hide the approach of an elephant. And Nehimba has plenty of elephants. In fact, according to the Great Elephant Census, Hwange is home to one of the world's largest pachyderm populations – about 40,000 at the latest count.
Many of them seem to enjoy hanging around Nehimba, particularly in the dry season when its waterhole is one of the few reliable water sources in the area. When the crush around the waterhole gets too great, some of them have been known to try siphoning water out of the lodge swimming pool, sometimes startling the guests who are enjoying a cool dip.
When I ask my guide precisely how many elephants show up, he tells me the number is unpredictable, then nonchalantly mentions that the record 24-hour head count is 750.
Hwange's elephants are a Zimbabwe success story. Elsewhere on the continent, poachers are decimating elephant populations. In Hwange, by contrast, numbers have boomed in the 80-odd years since the park was established, from a starting population of about 1000. Today, visitors can expect to see bachelor herds of 20 to 30 elephants, or family groups of about 40 or 50.
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Ute Junker worked as a magazine editor and TV and digital producer before running away to become a travel writer. She now gets to pursue her passions - including food, history, art, architecture and wildlife - across the globe, and is happy to travel a long way for a coral reef, fine French champagne, or a bathtub with a view.