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.

EARTH DAY 2020

Does one say ‘Happy Earth Day?’ Can it be a happy Earth Day when the planet is mantled by an unseen enemy that has brought the world’s population to its knees, caused hunger, uncertainty, fear, suspicion and concern to the fore on a scale that no climate change warnings, earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanoes have managed to do? The spread of the COVID-19 virus has isolated us, caused us to look inwards, to contemplate where we are, what we do and to question our future.

There is much to celebrate and Earth Day is an opportunity to focus on those good things: biodiversity, water, clean(er) air … life, living, loving, and caring for and about others – these are aspects that the down time the virus has brought to us. Time to think about the food we eat, where it comes from, what we eat, how much food we really need, how to be innovative about making meals from food we already have at home instead making a needless trip to the local supermarket.

The internet abounds with ideas on how to cook / bake with ever fewer ingredients; how versatile other ingredients can be as substitutes for those we have run out of. Are we eating less / more healthy food / snacking less? Those with gardens appear to be appreciating them more – I certainly do – and have greater empathy for those who do not.

Earth Day this year is one of contemplation and appreciation. As we have been housebound for 27 days now I look back with a sense of nostalgia to various trips we have undertaken to game reserves in South Africa – at the time, never doubting that we could return whenever we had both the time and the resources to get there. The virus had other ideas.

We do not have to travel very far to observe Cattle Egrets as flocks of them follow the Urban Herd around all day and many fly over our garden at the end of each day on their way to perch in one of the tall trees near the centre of town.

Ostriches are always a delight to see in the various game reserves we have visited in the country. We used to see a lot more being farmed around here – South Africa provides 60% of the ostrich-meat supply market despite farmers having to battle with problems such as drought and avian influenza – which has made these birds very familiar over time. They are still wondrous to see in the wild.

Now we can only imagine and remember the joy of driving round the corner of a dirt road to meet an Elephant and her calf walking towards us.

When will I see a Waterbuck again?

Or Impala grazing in the rain?

Or a Lioness looking at me contemplatively?

These and all the other birds and animals will still be there when we are ‘free’ again. I remain thankful for that.

Enjoy Earth Day in your own way.

MUD, MUD, GLORIOUS MUD

So sings the hippopotamus to his fair hippopotamus maid in The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swann:

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood

So follow me, follow

Down to the hollow

And there let us wallow in glorious mud.

Hippos spend up to sixteen hours a day wallowing in rivers or waterholes –– submerging themselves to keep their bodies cool during the day.

Elephants also cover themselves with mud not only to keep cool, but to protect their skin from parasites. It is enjoyable watching elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park either rolling in mud or squirting it over themselves.

Rhinos also use mud to cool their bodies as they have no sweat glands. As with elephants, a thick layer of mud both helps to protect the rhinos from biting insects and traps parasites that might otherwise burrow into their hide.

Buffalos like a mud bath too. They also use mud as a protection from parasites.

Closer to home, every summer we witness the trials and tribulations of the Lesser-striped Swallows that build their nest from globules of mud.

Mud or dust can be important for humans too: geophagy is the habit of eating mud or dust to augment a mineral deficient diet. Some people feel the need to eat a fingertip of dust every now and then for this reason. This craving to eat earth is also known as pica, and may be an indication that young children have an iron deficiency.