Despite its name, one cannot be guaranteed to see a lot of elephants – or even any elephants – whilst driving around the Addo Elephant National Park. Sometimes one feels fortunate to see a lone elephant, such as this one, wading through the shallow water in the Ghwarrie Dam or drinking quietly with only water birds for company at first.
Note the thick, dark mud sticking to its tusk. It was later joined by a lone Cape buffalo that wasted no time in wallowing in the mud.
The situation at Rooidam was different, for here a small herd had gathered, waiting patiently while a young one found a deeper hole in which to wallow. It sometimes submerged itself so completely that only the tip of its trunk showed above the water. You can see, from the elephant on the right, how shallow the water is for some distance from the edge.
You will notice that most of the other elephants have already covered themselves with mud or sand, which helps to protect their skin from the harsh rays of the sun (as we would use sunscreen) as well as from parasites.
At Domkrag another elephant cut a lone figure as it drank thirstily from the dam. You can tell from the shadow beneath that the sun was high. A strong hot breeze was blowing too which added to the discomfort of the thirty plus degrees heat.
No single photograph can capture the hundreds of elephants gathered at the popular Hapoor waterhole. Far too many vehicles were parked cheek-by-jowl along the edge of the main watering place for another to get in, so these two photographs show a small section of the hundreds of elephants gathered on the other side of that waterhole where, presumably, there must also be access to watering points.
Note: you can double-click on these images for a larger view.
Elephants tend to move around in family groups led by a matriarch. These elephants in such a group were quenching their thirst at Ghwarrie Pan in the Addo Elephant National Park.
Male offspring are ousted from these closely-knit family groups once they reach the age of about twelve and they start to show a more than brotherly interest in the females. This must be a difficult period for these young bulls until they team up with other bulls or attach themselves to an older bull. This young bull had followed the family group pictured above from a discreet distance. It refrained from joining them, but constantly smelled the ground they had covered.
It waited patiently until the family group had crossed to the other side of the water before moving to where they had been drinking. It was only once his former family group began walking towards the lip of the hill that he finally began to drink from their last position at the dam.
Of course it is always exciting to get close to elephants in this park, where you often don’t really need a fancy camera to get pictures such as this:
Or this one:
Hapoor waterhole is a marvellous place to spend time watching groups of elephants greeting each other, young ones playing with each other, or simply to observe the actions of these majestic animals.
One shouldn’t become too complacent about the apparent gentleness or the tolerance the Addo elephants seem to have for tourists and their vehicles. It is best to maintain a healthy respect for them, to give way to them, and to allow them the space the need to move.
I wonder how many tourists give a thought to the multitude of jobs that happen behind the scenes in a game reserve that are ultimately for their benefit. The people one sees daily are those who clean the ablution blocks, who keep the chalets or camping areas clean; those who tend the gardens perhaps as well as those who work in the shop. Then there are the people who keep the restaurant going and the gatekeeper who checks one’s permit before one can enter the game viewing area – and those who operate the entrance/exit gates … I suspect their contributions are largely taken for granted.
What about the man with the back pack, a rifle and an Alsatian we sometimes saw around the car park and the day visitor picnic area – he says he is on the lookout for clues relating to rhino poachers. There are people who are involved with game management from the air.
Then there is the management team that has had to consider the impact of herds of elephants dominating the waterholes, preventing other animals from having access to water; that came up with the idea of partial exclusion waterholes.
As there are no rivers running through the Addo Elephant National Park, there are no natural open water sources, except when hollows fill with water after a particularly good rain. All the waterholes have been artificially created with water that has to be pumped from boreholes. These waterholes have to be managed. When you look at this view of the popular Hapoor waterhole and see the impact the gathering of large herds of elephants (and other animals) has had on the veld you can appreciate why some waterholes have had to be protected.
We noticed a borehole rig operating below that dam wall at Domkrag.
That they had struck water became obvious the following day.
On our last morning in the Addo Elephant National Park we came across a group of men patching potholes in the tar road in the Woodlands area.
These, and so many other ‘invisible’ people help to ensure that tourists have a good time when visiting game reserves all over the country. Give them a thought and a nod of appreciation when next you ‘head out for the wild’.