52 years ago, to the day, my dad and I stood on the banks of the Zambezi River. As I gazed towards the heavens, I recall sensing something monumental. That night, the first human set foot on the moon.
After saluting NASA’s success, we turned in for the night. How long had I been asleep? Shaking my shoulder, my dad was willing me awake. I remember two things. The first was his breath on my ear: “Keep still!” The second—to emphasize the point—was his index finger pressed to my lips. “There’s an elephant at the end of your cot.” Maybe we should have slept in that tent.
Elephants are noisy digesters. “Listen to his stomach,” whispered my dad. As I sat there in awe, I became aware of something more than mere sound. While it would take me many years to articulate the vibrancy of that moment, the sensation I experienced was both auditory and kinesthetic. In effect, I was FEELING the sound.
Two decades later, scientists discovered that elephants communicate using very-low frequency rumbles. These vocalizations, inaudible to humans, occur in the infrasonic range. That night, alongside the Zambezi, my own diaphragm had been vibrating in harmony with the elephant’s low frequency rumbles. It’s ironic that mankind’s ingenuity put men on the moon in 1969, but it took us another 25 years to discover that elephants communicate using infra-sound.
Nearly 40 years in the making, I eventually wrote and published Manzovo—Place of the Elephants. It’s not only a tribute to these magnificent animals, but also a warning signal of the fate that awaits them: habitat destruction; human-animal conflict; poaching; even ignorance—they’re all impacting their numbers.
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