In Stalking Ivory, Jade goes to Mount Marsabit (in the Northern Territory of what is now Kenya) to photograph elephants. Several real people did the same thing. Martin and Osa Johnson first went there in 1921 (a year after Jade) and spent three months filming elephants. In 1921, they came back to stay for four years, as is documented in Osa’s book, Four Years in Paradise. Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore also visited Marsabit to photograph the wildlife. All of them became enchanted with the elephants.
Many people are amazed that the elephants in Stalking Ivory are capable of slipping past you without making a sound or are difficult to detect. And it does seem rather illogical. How could anything that large be hard to see? It doesn’t even have speckled or striped patterns for camouflage. Major Dugmore addresses this very issue on pages 16-17 of The Wonderland of Big Game (1925).
“...the buffalo, like the elephant, has no pattern, yet the plain tones of varying shades of grey, running almost to black in the case of the buffalo, render the animals quite as invisible as the spotted coat of the leopard. If an elephant stands absolutely still, as it will do when suspicious of danger, it is almost impossible to see, notwithstanding its enormous bulk. The light and shade on the skin appear to merge into the surroundings in a way that is difficult to believe. Even the tusks look like dead branches, provided they are not moved.”
Elephants form tight social herds consisting primarily of mothers, daughters, and sisters. Older males may form bachelor herds and the oldest males tend to become solitary. They are very “touch” oriented and caress each other with their trunks. They lean their bodies against one another, and mothers grip a baby’s tail to guide it along.
Recently I saw a portion of a documentary re-released under the title, King Elephant. In it was amazing footage of an elephant herd that came across the skeletonized remains of another elephant. Every member of the herd ran her trunk over the bones, feeling and perhaps looking for scent. Many repeatedly felt the tusks. Could they recognize the individual by the tusks? Or did it merely verify to them that this was an elephant. Most unnerving of all was what happened next. Each elephant picked up one of the bones and carried it away, leaving it in a different location, scattering the remains until only the huge skull was left behind.