There’s nothing quite as humbling as being just feet away from an African elephant, swallowing the nervous lump in your throat. “Gulp!”

During our Great Kenya Migration Safari, we came across a young, bull elephant standing a few feet away from the road. Our driver, David, stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine so we could enjoy a quiet moment observing this handsome fellow. He took a quick interest in us, raising his trunk in our direction and sauntering over. It was a mutual curiosity.

African elephant in Kenya

Then—whoosh—the ears that were tucked so peacefully along the sides of his head just moments ago flew open as the elephant struck what I instinctively knew was a threatening pose. As he stood there, staring at us straight on, ears out wide, tusks pointed in our direction, that sense of curiosity turned to a visceral, “Oh, s@&!” pretty quickly. Suddenly, I was very aware that there were no doors on our safari vehicle, something I had cherished throughout our game drives thus far, but now missed dearly.

David hurriedly started the ignition, an action I wholeheartedly supported. Much to my surprise, in response the roar of the engine turning over, our Expedition Leader, Squack, calmly said, “No, it’s okay.”

“He’s just trying to show us how big he is,” Squack explained.

Wild African elephant bull

And I thought to myself, “Yup. Message received, loud and clear!”

Sure enough, that bull elephant never moved another inch, just as Squack had predicted. We admired his size for a few more minutes, and as he returned to nibbling on nearby acacia trees, we headed back to our safari camp for lunch.

Close encounter with a wild elephant in Kenya

I never felt scared or unsure of my safety, but, as our guide put it, “It’s one of those moments when you realize the color of adrenaline is brown.”

You know, as humans, we tend to think of ourselves as big. At five to six feet tall, one to two hundred pounds, we command a presence in the world. We’re top of the food chain.

But you sit there, feeling like an ant next to an African elephant, or you notice that when that lioness walked right past the truck, her head was at the height of the tire so that the next time you hop out of the safari vehicle, you stand next to that same tire and notice that it comes up to the top of your waist. And you realize that you don’t rule the world as you thought you did. You’re not the strongest or the fastest.

It makes you recognize that you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself. And you’re connected to these creatures and experiences that, in our everyday lives, feel so far removed. And it’s humbling. I keep trying to think of a different word, some synonym so that my vocabulary in this post is varied for your sake, but I can’t—I can’t think of a better word to describe the Great Migration safari experience than humbling.

This guest post was written by Natural Habitat Adventures Special Projects Manager Kit Longnecker. All photos © Kit Longnecker.