The Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris) is an iconic grassland bird that has endeared itself to residents and tourists alike. Curios abound showing off their clearly identifiable black or grey plumage with vivid white spots: tiny clay figurines, cloths, mugs, brooches and table mats.
Everyone seems to feel an affinity for these birds with characteristically bald faces and necks covered with blue skin. The wattles are red and they have a triangular horn-shaped casque or ‘helmet’ on their crown.
Flocks of them were present on my father’s farm. He didn’t use insecticide when growing cotton, arguing that the guineafowl did the job for him as they ranged through the cotton lands, picking off the pests as they went. They make for good eating too and have been hunted for sport. My father, however, would only shoot one now and then – strictly for the pot – as he wished to encourage their presence on the farm.
They forage on the ground, although fly up when disturbed. As evening approached I would sometimes see them roosting in the lower branches of trees on the farm. Their chuckling cackle remains one of my favourite sounds in the wild. I was delighted to hear that sound when we moved to the Eastern Cape and loved seeing them out in the open when we walked through the veld on the hill opposite our home. Alas, the area has become pitted with houses and the guineafowl have either been hunted out or chased away by dogs, people or the traffic.
Catching sight of them in the veld still lifts my spirits and transports me back to my growing up years, so far in time and distance from where I am now.
Here a small flock of Helmeted Guineafowl can be seen pecking in the grass in front of the Ngulube Waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park.
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.
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!
One always has to drive with care in areas where animals are free roaming. We have been doing that in our town for years as the Urban Herd of cattle – and now donkeys – has expanded. In a game reserve, careful driving at slow speeds is a must. You can never tell what might be crossing the road around a corner – or for how long you might have to wait.
Each time visitors thought there might be a break – these were not the first elephants to cross – more would appear from the bushes on the right of the picture.
Motorists had to wait patiently.
And just when they thought the coast was clear …
… another elephant appeared!
These elephants were heading across the road to drink and bathe in the Ghwarrie waterhole to the left of the pictures, whilst most of the visitors were waiting to observe an even large herd of elephants at Rooidam, from where we had just come.
Easter is a reflective time of the year and so I offer the following reflections that have all been photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park:
This Blackbacked Jackal was approaching the water at Hapoor in a very contemplative mood – it stood there very quietly for some time, possibly aware of the many elephants splashing just the other side of the reeds – before it made its way down the the water in a slow and cautious manner. It displayed patience such as few of us have when we are thirsty.
These Blacksmith Plovers (now called Blacksmith Lapwing) are standing on a barely submerged sandbank in front of the reeds at Hapoor – doubtless enjoying a respite from all the elephant activity that this waterhole is well known for.
An Egyptian Goose enjoying a drink at the Carol’s Rest waterhole.
Another thirsty visitor at Carol’s Rest is this warthog.
I will leave you with these zebra walking along the edge of the Domkrag waterhole in search of a suitable drinking place.
NOTE: Please click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger image.