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.

THICK DARK MUD

Regular readers do not get excited for it hasn’t rained enough here to soak the ground, let alone form rivulets and mud. Yet, the thickest, darkest, stickiest mud I have seen for a long time was evident at the Ghwarrie waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park – where it hasn’t rained much either. Look at this family of elephants churning up the mud on the edge of the waterhole as they move forward to get to the clear water to drink.

One of them clearly desired a mud bath and spent some time squirting this thick, sloshy black mud over itself.

The results of this mud flinging can clearly be seen as they turn to move away from the water.

Some of the elephants looked as though they were wearing dark boots as they made their way along the edge of the waterhole to seek food further afield. Then I looked down at a strange dark object nearby.

On closer inspection I realised it was a terrapin!

This one had obviously decided not to burrow into the mud.

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.

DROUGHT LANDSCAPE

People who live in places where they have had so much rain that they complain about it now and then cannot always comprehend the impact of a serious drought on the landscape. These photographs were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park about two weeks ago.

There is very little ground cover left after the dry winter – and nary a sign of spring flowers!

Even where there is still grass, it looks dry and lifeless. Yet, the animals survive somehow and – as long as good rains fall before it is too late – the veld manages to renew its growth of essential grasses, herbs and other vegetation to a point.

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.