CADABA APHYLLA

These bright red flowers stand out all over the Addo Elephant National Park, giving the Schotia brachypetala (Weeping Boer-boon) a run for its money. Its name has eluded me for some time until now: Cadaba aphylla is commonly known in Afrikaans as either Bobbejaanarm (arm of a baboon) or Swartstormbos (black storm bush). It is colloquially called a Leafless Wormbush in English. It looks a little like a broom plant.

These leafless tangled shrubs are often thorny at the tops. It is the clusters of red flowers that catch the eye as one drives through the park.

Characteristic of the flowers is that the long stamens protrude above the bright red petals – rather like a flag calling attention to passing pollinators!

The Cadaba aphyllum are hardy plants that survive frost as well as drought – which is why it is an ever-present delight to see in the park.

HELMETED GUINEAFOWL

The Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris) is an iconic grassland bird that has endeared itself to residents and tourists alike. Curios abound showing off their clearly identifiable black or grey plumage with vivid white spots: tiny clay figurines, cloths, mugs, brooches and table mats.

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Everyone seems to feel an affinity for these birds with characteristically bald faces and necks covered with blue skin. The wattles are red and they have a triangular horn-shaped casque or ‘helmet’ on their crown.

Flocks of them were present on my father’s farm. He didn’t use insecticide when growing cotton, arguing that the guineafowl did the job for him as they ranged through the cotton lands, picking off the pests as they went. They make for good eating too and have been hunted for sport. My father, however, would only shoot one now and then – strictly for the pot – as he wished to encourage their presence on the farm.

They forage on the ground, although fly up when disturbed. As evening approached I would sometimes see them roosting in the lower branches of trees on the farm. Their chuckling cackle remains one of my favourite sounds in the wild. I was delighted to hear that sound when we moved to the Eastern Cape and loved seeing them out in the open when we walked through the veld on the hill opposite our home. Alas, the area has become pitted with houses and the guineafowl have either been hunted out or chased away by dogs, people or the traffic.

Catching sight of them in the veld still lifts my spirits and transports me back to my growing up years, so far in time and distance from where I am now.

Here a small flock of Helmeted Guineafowl can be seen pecking in the grass in front of the Ngulube Waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park.

WARTHOGS EATING

Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) are ubiquitous in the Eastern Cape. There are sounders of them all over the Addo Elephant National Park that are ignored by many visitors who drive past them, possibly hoping to see ‘more interesting’ or ‘spectacular’ animals further on. Next time you see one close to the road, stop for a moment and watch how the warthog eats. The first thing you might notice is the typical kneeling position they take up when feeding. Callouses on their wrist pads are present from birth and cushion them while the warthogs feed. Their rather strange-looking short neck helps to provide the leverage it requires to dig up tubers or pull up grass.

It is thus worth taking note of the warthog’s rather flat face ending in a rounded snout that encloses the nostrils. This shovel like upper lip is hardened cartilage, which makes it every bit as useful for eating as is the trunk to an elephant.

The prominent warts on the face are a combination of bone and cartilage which helps to protect their faces should they get into a fight. The tusks on their upper and lower jaws are not only used to fight and defend themselves against predators, but for eating. Warthogs can use their tusks and their tough snouts to lift the soil if necessary. This warthog is shovelling the soil with its upper lip.

Eating and breathing go together. Here the warthog is blowing the pile of soil away.

There is more to the common warthog than meets the eye at first glance!

THE ELEPHANT’S TRUNK

Do you remember Rudyard Kipling’s story of how the elephant got its trunk? Part of the Just So stories, this one tells us of the Elephant Child who was full of ‘satiable curtiosity about all sorts of things, including what the crocodile ate for dinner. Having been spanked by everyone who could, he set off for the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees to find out for himself. When he at last met the crocodile he was told ‘I think to-day I will begin with Elephant’s Child!’ With that, the crocodile pulled at the Elephant Child’s little nose.

Then the Elephant’s Child sat back on his little haunches, and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose began to stretch. And the Crocodile floundered into the water, making it all creamy with great sweeps of his tail, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled. And the Elephant’s Child’s nose kept on stretching; and the Elephant’s Child spread all his little four legs and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose kept on stretching; and the Crocodile threshed his tail like an oar, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and at each pull the Elephant’s Child’s nose grew longer and longer – and it hurt him hijjus!

In this way the Elephant Child’s nose was stretched to the trunk it is today. He waited for three days for it to shrink – it didn’t – and gradually came to realise how useful it was: he could swat a pesky fly; he could pluck grass and stuff it into his mouth; and when he was hot, he found he could could schloop up a schloop of mud from the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo, and slap it on his head, where it made a cool schloopy-sloshy mud-cap all trickly behind his ears.

Today we are going to look at the elephant’s trunk:

Slurps up water …

… closes the end …

… brings it closer …

… and drinks!

Another elephant:

Blows out dirty water …

… scoops up cleaner water …

… for another drink.

While another elephant:

Checks on baby.

LOOKING FOR ELEPHANTS

Of course you want to see elephants when you visit the Addo Elephant National Park, but do not expect to find them all over. As large as they are, a whole herd of them can ‘disappear’ in the bush so that you cannot see them, even though they may not be far off the road. Looking hopefully at broken off bits of vegetation on a no entry road is no help. No entry means just that.

Natural signs such as this on the road indicate that elephants have at least passed through the area. They often drop leaves or twigs whilst walking.

The signs on this road look promising: twigs and dung.

Ah! We are getting closer … scan the surrounding bush, but there is still no sight of an elephant.

They must be nearby!

Follow the signs and you may get lucky – these elephants were drinking at Rooidam.