BABOON

Many visitors to our national parks are generally more interested in seeing the larger animals – especially lions – while others are focused on seeing as many different bird species as they can. The main attraction in the Addo Elephant National Park is naturally elephants, although one may be fortunate to spot a lion. Often dismissed by those intent on finding ‘more interesting’ animals are the smaller creatures. We have visited the park many times over decades and it is really only the last few years that baboons have become more prominent.

It is worth stopping for a moment to watch them in action. This one is picking thin twigs from a small plant and eating the leaves or seeds from it. These baboons have not (yet – hopefully never) been spoiled by visitors trying to feed them and so one can watch them going about their normal routine of finding food.

Here the baboon is reaching out for more of whatever this plant is that is proving to be worth eating. Its companions were further back from the road – if you see one baboon, there are bound to be others in the close vicinity so it is worth looking out for them.

Even whilst chewing, the baboon was on the lookout for the next tasty bite.

This part of the meal over, it was time to find something else. We left it at this point, having enjoyed observing the delicacy with which it picked out the food to eat, and the fine dexterity it employed to strip the leaves or seeds. These intelligent creatures are rewarding to watch in their natural state.

THIRSTY ZEBRAS

It is a week now that we have had to make do without water in our taps at home – the pump repairs, pipe repairs and whatever else may have gone wrong are supposed to be completed by Sunday. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to photographs of animals quenching their thirst in the Addo Elephant National Park. This time it is a herd of zebras.

Look at them, head down to slake their thirst at a waterhole. Drinking is clearly their main purpose for congregating here and judging by their focused actions, they must have been very thirsty.

Only a couple are left out, possibly they are keeping a look out on behalf of the others. There hardly seems to be space to fit in another zebra here.

This warthog didn’t think so either and settled down for a light doze in the sun until it too could get a turn to drink at the water hole.

WATCHING A CAPE ROBIN-CHAT

One of the best places, other than in my garden, to watch Cape Robin-Chats (Cossypha caffra) in action is Jack’s Picnic Site in the Addo Elephant National Park. There they have become so accustomed to the regular ebb and flow of human visitors that they happily perch in the shrubbery – and even on the picnic tables – while they watch out for a morsel of food. Here is a sample of some of the many photographs I have taken there of these absolutely delightful birds.

Occasionally a Cape Robin-chat will alight next to one’s vehicle as soon as the doors are open – quite ready to inspect the picnic fare.

Indeed, it has already found what may be a sunflower seed among the gravel – left by a previous visitor to the picnic site.

This one is perched on a wooden step leading down to a picnic site. Its gaze is quite intense.

You can tell that this Cape Robin-chat has a wary look about it.

This youngster is already learning the ropes and is keenly watching the ground on the off chance that some food might appear.

ELEGANT ELEPHANT

There must be few visitors who remain unmoved at the sight of an elephant in the wild.

This one has already spent time in the relatively shallow waterhole – see the dark areas on its front legs are higher than those on the back. The darker shade of the trunk shows that it too is still damp from having been in the water. Notice how flat its feet are. This is because there is a large pad of gristle under each heel. Given their size, it is incredible how quietly and elephant can walk – there is hardly a sound in their wake.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) have four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet. Think of the enormous weight these feet must support. That subcutaneous cushion plays an important role in distributing forces during weight bearing as well as acting as a shock absorber. The photograph above illustrates the angled foot structure which causes elephants to actually walk on their tiptoes while their body weight is evenly distributed across the fatty/connective tissue at the heel.

One of the most interesting aspects of elephants is their trunk, which is really an extension of its upper lip and nose.

An elephant’s trunk has multiple uses such as the obvious ones of breathing, drinking, and grasping their food. If you observe elephants for a while, you will notice they also use their trunks to dust themselves, splash mud over themselves, to smell – it fulfills an important sensory function – as well as producing sound. With all these functions and more, there comes a time when the trunk needs to rest.