Dusk was falling when we drove into the forested expanse of Lopé National Park in central Gabon, leaving the town of Lopé—the last outpost on the way to the reserve—far behind.
In the distance, the hills were changing color from blue to gray. On either side of the dirt road, a mosaic of savanna and thick tropical rainforest stretched to the horizon. The landscape looked so primeval that it was possible, in the moment, to think of human civilization as an illusion. Then, just as we were about to enter a dense patch of forest, our driver, Loïc Makaga, who manages the park’s research station, slammed on the brakes.
“Elephants!” he said in a low, excited voice, pointing ahead. He turned off the engine.