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And the trunk is just the tip of the elephant. Look beyond it and things start getting really strange. Take the ways in which elephants communicate with one another, for example. Few would be surprised to learn that an elephant’s prodigious ears, with their immense cochleas, are capable of detecting sounds completely inaudible to humans. But elephant vocalizations, it turns out, are just as impressive as their hearing: These animals employ not only a wide arsenal of intimidating bellows, but also a secondary palette of infrasonic groans and grumbles, communiqués that can travel great distances and are absorbed not by their ears, but by the highly receptive soles of their feet.

When Shadrack passed this way a year ago, those receptive soles of his were nevertheless thick enough for him to make good time across the brutal ground underfoot. My $140 pair of Merrells aren’t as tough, as I discover when a two-inch-long acacia thorn punches straight through the rubber tread and into my instep.

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We reach Shadrack’s trail at about noon on the second day. That’s what the GPS tells us anyway. On ground level, there’s nothing to distinguish where we are now from where we were before. Although the lack of a trail is a buzzkill, it jibes with some of the recent information on elephant corridors. The routes that elephants take are not well-bounded passageways but tend to vary with each streak. On the slopes of Mount Kenya, for example, an elephant named Mountain Bull jazzes up the Save the Elephants server about four times a year with a seven-mile streak between his highland and lowland grazing grounds. Overlay a year’s worth of Mountain Bull streaks and you get a tangle of individual routes that start and end in the same place. While this makes corridors more challenging to define, it also makes them easier to conserve. There’s no need to protect a single unchanging line: You simply have to ensure that a safe path exists. The elephant will figure out the rest. British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, as it happens, has agreed to fund the conservation of just such a pathway for Mountain Bull. He’s calling the project, of course, "The Virgin Elephant Corridor."

From the moment we reach his trail and start following in his digital footsteps, Shadrack becomes less of an idea and more of an eagerly awaited guest, one who may or may not show up. His tracking collar stopped transmitting data several months ago, so we don’t know exactly where he is. We do know that elephants often time their streaks with clockwork precision, which means there’s a possibility, slight but tantalizing, that he’ll materialize alongside us at any moment, his bits and bytes becoming a 12-foot-tall mountain of dust and muscle.

As the day proceeds, the bush thins. For a few golden hours we trek across an open, savanna-like area, plodding pleasantly along, spotting giraffes, gazelles, another camel caravan, and a few fat kori bustards, which can weigh nearly 40 pounds, making them the heaviest flying birds in the world.

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  • Brilliant photographs especially the night time ones. It is inspiring in a very astounding way.
  • Great article, wonderful photos. I wish I could take part in something like this someday. They are…
  • Amazing, inspiring.
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