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Long-listed in the Explorers Against Extinction “Stories For Survival” Competition, Lucy Chard writes of Africa and elephants and what they mean to the world.

There’s something about it. The air. The sky. The animals. Even the dirt beneath your feet. There’s something about it. Close your eyes and take a deep lungful. Scrunch your toes into the earth. Listen for the sounds of the creatures all around you, try and pin point their origins. Breathe out. Open your eyes.

It’s the wilderness of Sub Saharan Africa. That’s the key thing too, the wilderness. The wildness of it, the freedom and the space, the noise and the taste. It besieges your senses and gets deep into your bones; your soul. That’s what the wilderness of Africa does.

So let’s explore this world, let’s take a walk through the wilderness.

It’s hot, even though it’s still early in the day, once the sun is up it’s hot, if you are up early enough you see the birds lining the most exposed branches of the trees, puffing up their feathers, willing themselves to warm up. We’re a few hours past that now but you can’t yet see the mirages in the distance of heat waves rising off the baked earth. You can feel the warmth of it seeping into your skin, the energy it gives you is almost palpable. Taking a step, at first unsure – there’s so much to explore, where to start? But your feet carry you forward, it doesn’t matter where you go. Barefoot is the best way to walk in the wilderness, as you become absorbed in your surroundings you forget about any tiny little stones that dig into the soles of your feet, it’s all apart of the experience, it connects you to everything around you, and you swear you can start to feel the thrum of life right there through the ground, resonating inside of you, mingling with the beat of your own heart.

Now we’re covering some ground, moving across the open plain towards the edge of a cluster of trees, the shadows creating a contrast with the morning light slanting through the trunks looks inviting; interesting. As you get closer to the trees you start to hear a bird calling, wait, one bird? Or several birds? All different birds? At first it’s difficult to distinguish but, as you concentrate, picking out each note you can define the patterns more clearly, and slowly you start to see the songsmiths themselves in amongst the branches, they’ve been there the whole time but it’s only when you really look can you see them. You’ve got your eye in now though. You catch flashes of colour, a red face of a black-collared barbet and as you travel deeper into the trees the purple underbelly of a Knysna turaco, which swiftly disappears with a flick of a green wing, melting into the canopy. Staring up convinced you see it again you turn on the spot but nothing, just green leaves again. Suddenly a familiar smell hits you, but it’s out of place, where would you find popcorn in the wilderness? Well, you see you’ve stumbled across a male leopard’s morning route, scent marking – reinforcing his territory. You see the other signs now, scratch marks in the bark of a tree over there, new gouge marks cast over the scars of older ones; this is routinely trodden path.

Heart rate racing slightly more now you start to look around more intently as you walk, not blundering along with eyes lost in the canopy but searching between the trunks for anything more… surprising. The trees become more dense, thorny creepers sliding past your skin, catching slightly but you carry on, something drives you to get through the trees, to see what’s on the other side.

You feel more at one with the wilderness now, you can identify the bird calls just on the whisper of a song, you’ve registered the call of a group of baboons, just starting to play up a little, but they’re a way off.

Pushing through the trees now, eyes scanning for anything, your breath quickens and sweat starts to bead on your forehead as you become more aware that your field of vision is reducing, limited to just within a few trees in front of you, your senses are straining; heightened, this could be dangerous, you need to get out from these trees.

As quickly as the copse had surrounded you you’re out the other side, bursting through, you pause, looking back and catching your breath, hearing the blood rush humming through your ears. Almost like a rumble. No, that’s not you, the deep belly rumble feels like it could be coming from you though. You turn slowly to see what had been drawing through the trees and you’re greeted with a large oasis, the water shining and glassy. You see where the rumble came from now. A small herd of elephants stand at the waters edge, the largest – she must be the Matriarch – has taken a drink, she’s the one that is rumbling, encouraging the others to also quench their thirst. It’s all you can do to stand stock still and watch them. You don’t need to move closer, they are still unaware of you as you are blending into the background of the trees. You can see how they move, deliberately but with ease, they have a majesty that is both graceful and terrifying. You carefully sit down, you can watch them now, quietly, in their wilderness.

There’s something about it, in fact there’s a lot about it, and you don’t want to live in a world without…