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.

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.

WATCHING ELEPHANTS

Everyone seems to enjoy watching large herds of elephants – there is no denying that their interactions with each other can keep one occupied for hours. It is fascinating to observe how different groups of elephants greet each other upon arrival at a large waterhole, such as Hapoor in the Addo Elephant National Park. Equally interesting is the behaviour of youngsters; and the tiny elephants are especially endearing to keep an eye on. Many visitors halt briefly at the sight of a single elephant at the side of the road before moving on – perhaps hoping to see something more exciting.

It is worth stopping for a while – providing you have assessed the safety to do so – and to watch how the elephant selects its food; to listen to the sound of it plucking grass or snapping twigs; to watch in awe the way bundles of thorny material disappear into its mouth; to hear the gentle rumbling in its stomach; and to breathe in the unmistakeable smells surrounding the elephant. You might be surprised after a few moments to discover that this wasn’t a lone elephant after all, but one of several that had hitherto been hidden in the bush.

This elephant, walking along the edge of Gwarrie Pan, affords an interesting opportunity to watch how an elephant walks; the padded base of its feet; and the way its dangling trunk is curled up at the base.

Here a small family group is kicking up dust as they race across the dry veld to join others at the Hapoor waterhole: were they particularly thirsty, I wondered; perhaps they were excited to meet up with other family members; or the younger ones may simply have been feeling exuberant.

These few were moving off more sedately, having had their fill of both water and company – their lengthened shadows accompanying them as they made their way towards the bushy area ahead.

Lastly, here a small family group are drinking in unison at Gwarrie Pan. Note that the elephant on the left has only one tusk.

It is not worth telling yourself that you are seeing ‘just another elephant’ when driving through an area such as the Addo Elephant National Park: they are all different; doing different things; and interacting with different creatures. Watch their behaviour around buffalo and zebra; or what the youngsters do when a warthog comes too close; how they bath; the way they drink; and how they plaster themselves with mud. It is always worth spending a little extra time watching elephants!

HEIMWEE FOR THE ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

We have been in lock-down for ninety-five days already – despite having moved to Level Three (‘advanced’ Level Three nogal!) that allows more businesses to open, we still cannot visit family and friends nor can we cross provincial borders without a permit – and you require a very good reason to get one of those. National Parks are now open for day visitors, yet the above-mentioned restrictions make visiting the Kruger National Park out of the question. In the spirit of the photograph below, I will look back to share some of the delights of the Addo Elephant National Park which we hope to visit again before much longer.

Naturally, one goes to the Addo Elephant National Park to see elephants – they seldom disappoint. We have seen herds of over a hundred individuals congregating around the Hapoor waterhole; been surprised by single elephants right next to the road; and have enjoyed watching small groups – such as the one these two are part of – at the Domkrag waterhole. Here we are able to get out of our vehicle and look down at these magnificent animals as they go about their daily life.

You might be fortunate enough to come across a Secretary Bird striding through the grasslands.  They occur singly and in pairs – it is always worth scanning the veld to see if you can spot another one.

Zebras grace the landscape in Addo – they might occur in small groups or in much larger ones that stretch across the side of a grassy slope. They are always a delight to observe.

I am always pleased to come across the large Mountain tortoises that lumber through the grass or patiently cross rocky areas. This one was taking advantage of a puddle in the road after rain.

Then there are the beautiful Cape Glossy Starlings that brighten the landscape.

By keeping an eye open for more than just animals, you get to enjoy some of the many butterflies too.