My Special Memories of Elephants


There were some individuals who were special. I am thinking of Rafiki (meaning ‘friend’ in Kiswahili) with her twin calves. I first saw them when they were only a couple of weeks old. It was when Derek Bryceson, my former husband, was Director of Tanzania National Parks. I had suggested that we might train park rangers to follow and observe elephants in the same sort of way as our field staff follow chimpanzees at Gombe. Ian Douglas-Hamilton agreed to give some workshops for rangers from the Ruaha, Tarangire and Manyara national parks. Four rangers from each of the parks were assigned to elephant observation, following in teams of two at a time.

We heard about the twins soon after they were born. Derek and I spent hours watching them over the months that followed. It was enchanting to see both of them suckling at the same time. Rafiki was a wonderful mother, gently caressing the twins with her trunk, huge ears flapping, as the family rested in the shade of acacia trees. She was so watchful and protective when they travelled over rocky terrain.

Then there was Fred, a juvenile male who was a real show off – full of mischief and energy. He would chase anything – cattle egrets, antelopes, warthogs – charging towards them, trumpeting fiercely, ears spread out like wings. Once I saw him chase a butterfly! Sometimes he upset one of the calves in his group, and then the mother would discipline him with a warning toss of her head.

Another elephant I loved was a very ancient male, Ahmed. He was so old that all his skin was loose on his body. It hung around his ankles and under his tummy in folds. His ears drooped. He moved slowly and deliberately, and was quite often by himself. When he rested in the shade he would drape his trunk over one of his tusks, as though it was getting too heavy for him.

And then there was Virgo. She was the favourite of Ian Douglas-Hamilton and he introduced me to her in Manyara National Park, site of his famous study. He had known her since her birth, and when he located her we drove up close, then got out of the car. I held out my hand, and she reached to touch it gently, so gently, with her trunk. Virgo, I shall never forget you.

About Author

Jane Goodall is a passionate road warrior, traveling nearly 300 days each year on a worldwide speaking tour to raise awareness, inspire change, and encourage each of us to do our part in making the world a better place. Jane's love for animals started at a young age and in July of 1960, at the age of 26, she followed her dreams and traveled from England to what is now Tanzania, to bravely enter the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars, but with her unyielding patience and optimism, she won the trust of the Gombe chimpanzees, and opened a window into their lives for all to see. Jane's studies has taught humanity one of the most important lessons - that we humans are not the only beings on this planet with personalities, minds capable of thinking and above all, emotions. Her findings shook the scientific community and made us re-evaluate what it means to be human.