You would think that spotting elephants is relatively easy. This is true in most parts of Africa, but in the Congo, when you are looking for Forest Elephants, the rules change a bit and a very different approach is needed. Luckily for us our patience and planning paid off and while drifting by boat down one of the many rivers that crisscross the forests, we spotted some movement on the far bank.

A patch of sunlight was briefly blocked out then reappeared, this is what caught our attention. We were drifting quietly down the river, searching for amongst other animals, Forest Elephant.

This shy and usually elusive species of elephant spends its life in the deep forests of equatorial Africa. As such it seldom sees people, and as a result tends to be very difficult to see, view and photograph. With this particular bull we were lucky. The wind was in our favor, we were quiet and we positioned the boat opposite to where he fed along the bank of the river. After a while, he left the shadows of the huge trees and started feeding on the high bank, giving us a full view of his impressive tusks, typically straight and tannin stained. Unlike the savannah elephant, whose tusks are splayed wide, the Forest Elephant’s tusks are downward pointing and relatively close together, growing parallel to one another rather than off at an angle. This allows them to pass through the dense vegetation of the forests without getting hooked up on their tusks. They also have a very pale eye color giving them a very unique look when seen at close quarters. The Savannah Elephant, as many of you will know, has that beautiful amber tone to its eye.

We spent about twenty minutes watching and photographing this bull before he turned and slowly headed back into the forest. During the course of the next twenty-four hours we would once again drift down the river and spot more elephants. One huge bull was sucking the mineral salts out of the loose gravel riverbed, and another whose only view of him was the top of his trunk and as he scented us he disappeared. The other bull we saw was drinking, chest deep, in a small tributary of the main river we were on. We drifted into view and the minute he saw us he spun around, sending water spray in all directions as he ploughed through the channel and made for the forest!

Everywhere we looked during our walks in the forest, there were signs of elephants. At night in front of the lodge, throughout the ‘Baai’, which is a large opening in the forest that has mineral deposits which draws animals of all shapes and sizes, we would hear herds of them splashing and playing just in front of our rooms. By morning they had vanished into the forests and left only tracks for us to see. Tracks varying in sizes, huge bulls whose spoor were several feet in circumference, to tiny calves with spoor the size of side plates.

The evidence was everywhere, but like so many things in the forest, sightings of them were few. This is what made our sightings so special and memorable.