ROADBLOCKS

We are used to roadblocks in South Africa. These could be the kind requiring you to wait for oncoming traffic to pass through a section of road that is being repaired or a police roadblock during which you are required to show your driver’s licence while they check your vehicle licence and may even make a cursory check of the state of your tyres. These days we have to be increasingly on the lookout for roadblocks caused by the Urban Herd taking a stroll around our town.

Much further afield, only 3km from the Mpofu Nature Reserve in fact, traffic was halted by this herd of cattle that had no intention of moving out of the way in any hurry at all.

Some distance further on, the road was blocked by this herd of sheep being moved from one grazing area to another. Two sheep dogs assisting the shepherd managed to escape being photographed. They were doing an excellent job of keeping the sheep together and on the move in an orderly manner.

We were deep into the farming country of the Kat River district, so it came as no surprise when traffic had to back up while this herd of sheep crossed the narrow bridge – led by three shepherds this time and a single sheepdog (which also slipped away before I could ‘catch’ it) – and made their way through a large gate into a field next to the road.

These are a lot less daunting than this roadblock though!

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.