By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung
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Taken by Greg Du Toit, 39, in Botswana’s Mashatu Game Reserve, the series of breathtaking images taken at eye level were shot over a period of three years and give a rare insight into the lives of elephants.
The South African photographer said: “These are pictures of wild elephants all roaming Africa freely, in large open ecosystems, the way all animals and elephants once did.
“I wanted to bring the elephant into the lives of people around the world, to show them what incredible and wonderful creatures they are.
"To do this effectively I wanted to emphasise their gigantic size, and what makes this portfolio unique is that the photographs were mostly taken at eye-level.”
In order to get close enough to the majestic mammals, Greg used a series of hides which allowed him to get an eye-level perspective. But this still wasn’t close enough for the professional photographer, leading him to take a huge risk by climbing into an elephant watering hole.
He said: “I wanted to get even closer to the elephants and in the hides I still felt separated from my subjects.
“It took me months of studying the waterhole and the elephants’ behaviour, until I finally took the plunge and climbed into the water.
Using the hide, Du Toit was able to photograph the elephants from a distance of 20 yards, but in the water, he was able to watch the mammals from a remarkable two yards.
He said: “The risks were immense as elephants often climb inside waterholes to enjoy a mud bath but at the same time, I knew that the rewards would be great too.”
Lying in the water and watching the first herd approach, Greg confessed that he had a lump in his throat, but soon enough the elephants were right in front of him, drinking directly out of the watering hole.
He said: “So close in fact, that I could have reached out and touched them! The waterhole is the size of a domestic swimming pool and full of mud and with just my head and hands above the water, I went to work documenting various herds as they came in to drink.”
From 2014-2017, using a wide-angled camera lens, Greg was able to capture every little detail as the elephants roamed freely, allowing him to feel like he was a part of each elephant herd.
Du Toit said: “I relished the opportunity to photograph the babies drinking and playing, capturing their playful antics on camera. By submerging myself in the elephants’ watering hole, I became a part of their world, and this allowed me to document their lives in a special way.”
Having been born in Africa, and having worked as a safari guide and professional wildlife photographer for over two decades, Greg considers himself an expert on large African mammals and predators, but he wouldn’t recommend his actions to others.
He said: “What I did buy climbing into the waterhole is incredibly dangerous and should never be tried at home, so to speak.
“I did it for the elephants, as it is my hope that this portfolio of special elephant photographs will arouse a love and appreciation for all elephants, thereby contributing to their future conservation and success as a species.”
Each herd that Greg photographed consisted of mainly female elephants and babies, with between 10-30 animals.
Greg said: “Under normal circumstances, one seldom gets close to the babies as elephant mothers are some of the best mothers in the animal kingdom and are very protective.
"But, in the water, the elephants saw me as no threat at all and I was in the middle of the herd, able to photograph and even swim around the waterhole, changing angles and positions.
“Photographing from inside the waterhole was a life-changing experience. Initially, I never knew how the elephants would react and especially the breeding herds with tiny babies.
"But, I need not have worried as elephants are such incredibly intelligent animals and they not only knew I was there, they also knew I was no threat to them.
"They went about their daily business as usual, quenching long thirsts and enjoying the waterhole while I had a rare and unique toenail perspective.”
Sadly, according to the WWF, since 1979 African elephants have lost over 50% of their range and this, along with massive poaching for ivory and trophies, has seen the population drop significantly.
Greg said: “Alarmingly, in these modern times, elephants are being hunted and poached at a faster rate than they are being born.
“It is my hope that this body of work will help create a greater love and appreciation for elephants and even arouse the collective human conscience, so that these wonderfully intelligent and gentle giants will be around for future generations to see and enjoy.”
To take a look at more of Greg’s incredible photography, follow his Instagram page; https://www.instagram.com/gregdutoit/