Sankalai

“A memory is a beautiful thing, it’s almost a desire that you miss.”
Gustave Flaubert

Since 1992, I have never lived a week of my life without thinking of Africa…

My memories of Africa are linked to my years as a Wildlife Producer and my time spent in the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya. My first TV production as an Executive Producer was titled Untamed Africa. The vision behind the documentary was to film wildlife behaviors in the Mara over a year period. We followed the same pride of lions, the two cheetahs brothers of Talek, the giraffe with a damaged skin, the great migration and so on… It was a year of intense filming in the heart of the Rift Valley and it provided me with a unique perspective on life, nature and human impact on a rare ecosystem.

After six months, living and waiting under the sun (patience is the main virtue of the wildlife photographer and filmmaker), I started to feel unconcerned of the daily beauty that was offered to me and tired of all this noisy and unpredictable wildlife…

One afternoon, we decided to scout for our pride of lions, to locate them for the next day and avoid losing too much time in the first hours of the morning.
I am not sure how and why we took the decision to leave our base without our video camera or still camera, but we did. We were just blasé…
I imagine you, dear reader, laughing, mocking and shaking your head in disbelief at our carelessness. It took exactly 5 minutes of driving for us to witness what is one of the most significant moment of my life.

African skies are the most beautiful in the world. The stormy blackness of the sky was beyond anything I have seen before. The soft end of the day light was clashing with the approaching darkness and we were immersed in the flowing movement of the long golden grass. Time stopped and we surrendered ourselves, silently, to the blissfulness of the instant. The Sankalai was entering our lives.
The Swahili word Sankalai is the expression often used to define the old and lonely male African elephant. He was enormous and majestic and I have never seen such an imposing animal in our discovery of the African bush. Twenty years later, my heart is still beating to the movement of this elephant. He walked towards our Land Cruiser from afar in a straight line and looking beyond us. Not a word, not a movement in the car. The Masai driver and the two French filmmakers were silenced by the ceremonial elegance and existence of the bull.

The intensity of the landscape, the commanding presence of the animal, the absence of technology and our realisation that we were experiencing definitive beauty were the ingredients which engraved this instant into my soul. I was looking at this event without the distraction of a viewfinder and the encounter with the Sankalai became the ultimate reward of our daily patience and effort. We were enraptured again.
In the absence of photos or footage, we never talked about it and we never tried to look for him again. We moved our vehicle to let him pursue his march, he did not allow himself to be distracted by us. We were insignificant.

The Sankalai is the symbol of my Africa. He is my hope for Africa: Keeping the course with determination, authority and dignity.

This post is dedicated to Frederic Lepage with my sincere apologies for not capturing this moment. For many years, you have given me your trust and support to work on rich and valuable wildlife TV series and documentaries. I owe you so much and never took the time to acknowledge it. Thank you Frederic.