A close encounter | by Tyla Autumn Barnfield

It was an early, crisp April morning in South Africa. By this time of year, Autumn had well and truly arrived. With it, came a bitter chill that crept in during the evening and hung around until late morning, until the sun had graced the day and warmed the atmosphere.

On this particular day, I had been up before the crack of dawn and was zipping through the bush on the back of a game vehicle with my fellow volunteers. Our mission: to track down the reserve’s female cheetah.

Being out in the bush for sunrise is one of the most enchanting experiences I’ve ever had. There is nothing quite like watching and hearing the bush come to life for the day. Birds begin to stir, appearing from their nests, their calls filling the air like a melodic symphony. Antelope emerge from the thickets, slightly more relaxed as the peak hunting period has passed. The suns dramatic entrance to the morning, engulfing the sky with glorious hues of oranges, reds and pinks. It is simply, breath-taking.

Wrapped up in a jumper, a jacket and a blanket, to protect myself from the cold air that whipped past my exposed body (but enjoying the sensation of it filling up my lungs), I kept my eyes peeled for any other animals that I could spot during our expedition. My inner child, wide-eyed and brimming with excitement.

The suns’ rays began evaporating the moisture that had accumulated during the night, drying out the bush and causing a mystical mist to loom. The earthy smell of damp soil and the sharp smell of the bush charmed my sense of smell. Despite being on the back of a man-made machine, there was something quite primal about being so deep in nature.

Every now and then, we would stop momentarily, one of us would stand up and wave a tracking device in the air. We would all listen, carefully, for the confirming beeps that told us we were drawing in on our target. We had been scanning the reserve for around three hours with no luck. Nothing but the sound of white noise came from the tracker; crackling frequencies struggling to find the signal sent out from the cheetahs’ collar. So, onward we moved.

Despite having no luck with the cheetah, we were treated to many other sightings. Kudu, nyala, impala and bushbuck would all prick their ears and turn their heads at the sound of our vehicles engine, chugging through the bush. Zebra ran parallel to our vehicle, before veering off into the foliage and we even encountered a pair of courting giraffes, frolicking and weaving through the trees.

Our search for the cheetah had lead us East, West and South. So, pursuing our last option, we began to head North. Then, from a distance we saw what looked like giant rocks, patches of grey amongst the green tones of the foliage, slowly moving in our direction but quickly, we realised that we had stumbled upon the reserves herd of elephants.

We parked the car up to admire them and within minutes, the entire group had emerged from the bush and had us surrounded. My heart was in my throat. A mixture of excitement and nerves bubbled up inside me. The sheer size and presence of these beautiful creatures made us seem so tiny and insignificant. I suddenly realised that we would be powerless if they decided to turn on us… but there was something quite humbling about that. As humans, it’s not often that we encounter creatures that make us feel such a way.

We sat there, our adrenaline pumping and nervous giggles passing our lips every time an elephant passed within a whisker of our vehicle.

Two elephants made their way towards my side of the car. Suddenly, one of them stopped next to me. I could tell that she was a female from her size. She looked at me and I, at her. Her eyes were full of a deep wisdom, passed down from generations. Without warning, she lifted her trunk just above my head and I felt a sudden gush of warm air, her breath tickling the hairs on the back of my neck. Gasps came from the other volunteers. Then, as quickly as she came, she was gone. I couldn’t quite believe what had just happened but I was thrilled, my heart and soul moved.

Eventually, the herd moved on and we all let out a big sigh, as if we had been holding our breaths the entire time. We looked at one another, then erupted in a laughter of pure elation.

We carried on our search for the cheetah and as luck would have it, we found her within thirty minutes of our unforgettable, close elephant encounter.

About the Entry

Tyla Autumn Barnfield

Born in an urban town in North London, as a young child I first expressed my passion for wildlife by running around my back garden, taking photos of birds and squirrels. In adulthood, I have followed a deep inner yearning to immerse myself deep in nature, I have spent most of it volunteering and and working alongside an array of wild animals, primarily in the planes of Africa, doing all I can to make a difference to preserve and protect their evolution and conservation. All the while, I have continued to capture the magnificent beauty of the wild species that roam our planet, in order to share that beauty with the world. Whilst I have primarily done this through my camera lens, I often share the story behind the image, which has lead me to discover a talent and great passion for writing.

  • Site name | Tyla Autumn Photography
  • Site URLwww.tylaautumnphotography.com
  • Instagram www.instagram.com/tyla_autumn
  • Why should someone visit your site? Feel connected to nature through inspiring photos of wildlife, which capture the heart and intrigue the soul. When we are connected to nature, we are connected to our true selves.
  • Entry TitleA close encounter
  • Entry Number | 69

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