27 May 2010


When everything gets too much I escape to the Addo Elephant Park some 40 kilometres from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Spending a night or two camping and listening to Hyenas and Jackal calling at night I soon forget everything that is irritating me.

The drought has been hard on the animals and vegetation but thankfully a cloudburst has filled the dams and the grass has turned green. The elephants have noticed this and I noticed a large matriarchal herd of elephants doing a strange foot shuffle. Using their feet they loosen the grass and then they pick it up and knock the tuft on their backs to get rid of the soil. This gives them a free complimentary dust bath and something to eat. To see the group interacting and feeding with many calves was wonderful. I must admit I have never had such a co-operative herd to photograph and I completely lost track of time.

They eventually moved to a nearby water hole and I went ahead to make sure I was in a good position to take photographs. Elephants do make me nervous but this herd was so in control that I had nothing to worry about. I had stupidly parked across the track that they follow but a large female stood some six inches from the car to conduct the herd past me, much like someone controlling the traffic for children crossing the street. I must admit the sudden shadow of the elephant over the car did cause an adrenaline rush.

When they moved off I read a book for a while waiting for the light to improve and it irritated me. I was an overlander’s guide to crossing Africa and it mentioned Addo and its elephants. Citrus fruits are banned from the park and they claim it is because elephants love them so much it might drive them to damaging cars in their frenzy to get at them. That is true but the writer has no sense of history. The real reason is because some 30 years ago when the park was fenced off and you were not allowed in the elephants’ area they were fed citrus fruit to attract them to the viewing area in front of the main rest camp. This was stopped many years ago because it was just a bad animal management practice. I remember the excitement as a child of the oranges and the herds of elephants coming to eat them. A good idea but a wrong practice. The elephants have of course not forgotten this and still react when they smell citrus. If all elephants loved oranges one would find signs banning citrus at all the places where elephants occur. Eating an orange at a zoo might lead to disaster if all elephants suffered from uncontrollable citrus lust!

I also remember my buffalo deprived childhood. The buffalo were nocturnal and I saw one buffalo in about 30 years. They had no natural enemies in the park and they multiplied. Then lions were introduced into the park in 2003 and they really enjoyed the buffalo, so much so that they almost fed exclusively on them. Cats see well in the dark and a nocturnal feeding buffalo is easily heard and stalked with unfortunate consequences for them. The buffalo however are not stupid and over a period of a few years they have changed their behaviour and now feed in daylight and spend the nights worrying in groups in the thick bush. This is obviously a better defensive lifestyle and they are recovering well after the initial impact of the lions and I get to see buffalo just about every time I go to the park.

So elephants remember and buffalo adapt andI must remember that I enjoy going to the reserve (I only went once last year) and I must adapt my lifestyle to allow more visits....

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