• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: Eye Contact with a Wild Elephant

Published: June 26, 2020

By Mark Seth Lender

Eye contact with a wild elephant. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender reflects on an unprecedented, bewildering encounter with a wild elephant.

I thought about this story for a quarter of a century before I wrote it down. I did not want to see it in print. Staring back at me. It was the first time a wild animal reached out to me. Not the thing we take for granted coming from our pets. Something different from that, outside the boundaries of our ostensible control. An elephant. Can you imagine? An elephant! Something Other. And this is what happened and how it ended.

The fact of approach requires its own word: Extraordinarity. A portmanteau of “Extraordinary” and “Rare.” All the more what lies beneath, Eye contact, itself enough of a remarkable thing. How in the first place does a wild animal find your eyes? Ours face front, better for hunting. Elephant eyes are oriented more to the side, for avoiding hunters. The eyes of other animals likewise have their various strengths and weaknesses, some sporting greater acuity underwater but seeing less well than we do in air, or with night vision better than ours, or structured to be more sensitive to movement, or attuned to different ends of the electromagnetic spectrum, specialties concerned with the detection of different stimuli than those that concern us. Each looks at the world “through its own eyes” implying (or so we have been told) different mind. If so, then why seek out your face, your eyes? From insects to elephants most animals seek and find your face; and it is eyes that make the face. There is something shared. Must be. Or why bother?

Back to Mark Seth Lender Field Notes


Listen to the "Eye Contact" audio essay

Mark Seth Lender's website

Sekenani Camp

Donald Young Safaris


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth