EARLY MORNING ADDO

An advantage of overnighting in a national park is that one can enter the game area before sunrise. We left our Forest Cabin to go through the gate at half past six: the air was cold and felt ‘heavy’ to breathe; the horizon was only beginning to blush in the east; and there was a heavy dew on the grass. While this is a magical time in which to see a variety of animals, it is not kind light for photography. Rooidam waterhole looked for all the world as though it was a simmering cauldron with steam rising from its surface. We could barely see the pair of Egyptian Geese preening themselves near the edge:

The darkness was fading fast though, which meant that within a few minutes I could capture their ghostly reflections in the water. A little further along the road we came across the first of many zebra, their manes almost glowing as the sun rose higher:

The colour of zebra changes according to the light and where they have been rolling on the ground. These two were walking away from the rosy sunrise:

Our early rising was rewarded by this magnificent sighting of a herd of buffalo grazing out in the open:

The early morning light now cast a golden glow over everything. We drove on for a closer view of them:

These two on the edge of the herd are covered with a thick layer of mud. Moving on to Hapoor Waterhole, we spotted a terrapin catching the early morning rays of the sun:

DAGGA BOY

This might seem a strange description for a lone African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) seen wallowing in the mud, walking ever so slowly towards a waterhole or grazing in the veld. The double ‘g’ in dagga is pronounced as you would the ‘g’ in ‘gold’ or ‘glory’. The term ‘dagga’ in this context most likely has its origins in the Zulu word udaka (meaning mud or clay). In fact, you might frequently see remnants of mud caked on the hide of these lone buffalo. This is because they seem to spend a lot of time either rolling in mud or immersing themselves in muddy wallows.

These solitary old buffalo are past their prime – you can usually see how their covering of hair has thinned so that bald spots appear. By wallowing in thick mud the buffalo ensure they have a barrier against both the sun and the parasites that might infest these bald spots. Here two of these old dagga boys have teamed up in the Kruger National Park to seek water. Note the Red-billed Oxpeckers on their backs – they too help rid these animals of pesky parasites.

This lone dagga boy is grazing in the Addo Elephant National Park – not far from water, yet with no other buffalo to be seen in the area. He is possibly staying in this area with soft green grass because his teeth have worn down with age and so it is easier to eat. Note his heavy boss and upward curved horns – he must have been a formidable bull in his prime.

Now he lives away from the herd. He might team up with another dagga boy. Either way, as he weakens with age – and without the protection of the herd – he will become a target for predators.

Rest well old chap.

A FOCUS ON ANIMAL EARS

The animals shown below were all photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Cape buffalo

Their large drooping fringed ears hang down below the horns. They sometimes look torn, ragged, or scarred from fighting.

Elephant

The size of the ears of elephants helps to cool them down. They can act as a fan to move air over the body and also cool the blood as it circulates through the veins in the ears. Through careful observation one can learn to identify individual elephants by the nicks, notches, holes and missing bits caused by their travels through the bush.

Kudu

Kudu have an acute sense of hearing, thanks to their large round ears that alert them to danger.

Red hartebeest

White hair covers the inside of the long pointed ears of red hartebeest.

Warthog

The ears of the warthogs are prominently placed above their heads. They are leaf-shaped, with erect, slightly rounded tips.

Zebra

Zebras have large, rounded ears with lots of hair that helps to keep the dust out of them. It is interesting to note that the position of their ears can signal whether or not they are feeling calm or are alert to imminent danger in their vicinity.

AT A WATER HOLE I

A young couple walk purposefully down the brick path toward a bench overlooking the water hole at the rest camp and sit down. He sports dark, closely-cropped hair and is wearing a baggy green top over tight jeans. The glistening white of his sports shoes strongly suggests they are new arrivals for he has clearly not walked far along the dirt roads and dusty paths that vein through the camp. He doesn’t notice the Cape Sparrow perched to the left of him on the Spekboom hedge.

She is wearing khaki cargo pants still stiff and showing factory creases. A blue hooded top covers her hair as she sits staring straight ahead, ignoring the cheerful calls of the Cape Weaver on her right, even though it flutters down now and then to search the brick paving around her feet.

He unfolds the coloured map they were given at reception and tries to hold it firm against the gentle tugging from an impish breeze. He turns the map this way and that before stabbing his finger on the water hole they are seated at. “We’re here,” he says with a degree of authority. He runs his finger along the patterns of roads radiating through the park. So absorbed is he in this task that he doesn’t notice the back of a lone buffalo disappearing among the Spekboom and other shrubs a little to the left of the water hole.

She picks up a pair of powerful binoculars and scans the area around the water hole. Neither the presence of a flock of Guineafowl nor the pair of Hadeda Ibises appear to hold her interest, for she quickly lowers the binoculars to rest on her lap. She leans towards her companion. “There’s nothing of interest to see here.” Her voice is flat. He is still studying the map but obligingly leaves off to raise the binoculars to his eyes. He sweeps across the landscape too quickly to pick up either the heron keeping watch over some ducks …

… or the Black-backed jackal that had come for a quick, furtive drink.

“I hope the rest of the park doesn’t look like this desert. All the pictures showed green grass and trees.” There is a whine in her voice as she strokes the binoculars on her lap with her index finger. He grunts and returns to perusing the map before looking up with an endearing smile.

“I overheard in the gents that this area has been denuded of vegetation because so many animals rely on this water for drinking.” He looks at her sulky face and pats her shoulder. “It’s early days though.” He folds the map and rises from the bench. “You hold the map,” he says, giving her a hug.

She shivers in the now icy wind. “Yes, we’ll be warmer in the car.” They walk away holding hands and so do not see the Kudu bulls emerging from the thorny scrub to quench their thirst.

WOODLANDS WATERHOLE

The Woodlands Waterhole is very close to the Main Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park. While it is not very big, it is always worth slowing down when approaching it for more often than not there is something interesting to see. We watched an encounter between a buffalo that had been wallowing in the muddy pool and an elephant arriving for a drink.

A warthog took advantage of a quiet moment to slake its thirst.

An elephant family took over the waterhole for a while.

Once they had ambled off, a herd of zebra that had been waiting patiently in the wings arrived for their share of the water.

This and other waterholes are artificial watering points within the park – all greatly sought after during this long drought.