We first heard an elephant's trumpet, and then Pocket, a Samburu morani (warrior), who was our guide, spotted them from our vantage point atop a ridge in Laikipia, a scrub-and-brush region of northern Kenya. We jumped into our Land Rover and barreled down a dirt path in the general direction of the elephant herd.
It was day 10 of our safari in deepest, darkest Africa. We had already seen lion staking out a seemingly endless line of wildebeest on the plains of the Maasai Mara, hippos lying next to each other in the Mara River so they looked like one big blob, scores of baboons chasing each other up and down trees in the Samburu Reserve, thousands of flamingo standing in Lake Natron in the shadow of Shompole mountain. And giraffe. We saw them splaying their legs to drink the muddy water of the Ewaso Nyiro river and we watched two males hitting each other with their necks to gain the right to woo their lady love.
We traveled to Kenya as clients of VirginBush Safaris, a crack two-woman team who arranged every detail of our trip and accompanied us to the lodges and camps along our route. Forgive a little parental pride when I say that one of the partners of VirginBush is our daughter Cindi, who moved from New York to Nairobi in 2001 to join her best friend Lisa Rolls in forming their successful enterprise. Both girls worked in advertising and media in their former lives, so they bring considerable flair and drama to their safaris, as evidenced by some of the interesting places we stayed, from the posh and elegant Shompole lodge to the 1920s decor of Cottar's romantic and spacious tents.
In addition to my wife Merrilee, co-conspirators of our merry band were Mary Lou and Al Ries, the latter a positioning guru whose book on the subject greatly influenced Lisa during her first days in the advertising industry; Russell Granet, one of Cindi's best friends from their days at Emerson College; and the Levine family-Robbie, his wife Valerie and their daughter Quinn-who got voted the coolest family on the trip. It was Robbie who instigated the making of our "Psycho Safari" video, with all of us playing key parts.
Among Cindi's and Lisa's friends we met in Nairobi was David Coulson, a prolific author who has dedicated his career to the preservation and awareness of Rock Art, the ancient drawings of African tribes. And we stopped by Save the Elephants, the research station in Samburu where they monitor elephant migration from one reserve to another. The researchers have put GPS collars on 16 of 1,000 elephants in the area to track them and find out many things, such as what they eat or how they move through the bush, a habitat that is rapidly disappearing.
The elephants are still plenty feisty, I can assure you. When we encountered the ones we had seen from the ridge, the matriarch ran out of the bush to block our advance. She approached us-ears flapping, tusks held high-and we backed off. This cat-and-mouse game continued until the elephant went back to her herd and signaled the other elephants to form a circle and surround the babies. Then facing out, they swayed back and forth to divert attention from their young-a protective measure and a ritual played out over the eons.