Elephants in the Wild
Elephants are the largest land animals and when you see one up close you stand in awe of their size and power. It has always been exciting for me to see them in the wild. Here in South Africa we are fortunate to be able to see them in the many game reserves dotted around the country. My favorite place is either Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape about 300 km from our home in East London or in the Kruger National Park that is located on the North-Eastern border of South Africa.
Elephants are herbivorous and sociable animals that can often be seen grazing in groups. When you see a single animal it is often a bull. The groups of elephants are lead by a matriarch and consist of animals of various ages. The fully grown animals are very protective of the calves and will chase anyone who appears to be a threat.
Because of their size they are seldom attacked by the carnivorous animals that share their territory. Young elephants can however become prey of lions and just recently we heard the sound of lions and elephants during the night outside our camping area at Addo. In the morning we were told that a baby elephant was killed and then dragged several hundred meters by the pride of lions to a place where they ate it. Lions normally hunt at night.
In Kruger on a visit a few years ago we came across an Elephant whose trunk had been shortened, perhaps by a Crocodile attack. In order to drink water it had to go right into the water. Usually they use their trunk to put water into their mouths.
If you come too close to the herd and specially the young an adult will give you a warning by charging with ears flapping and trunk raised. This can be a frightening experience and motor cars have been damaged and people killed when they became careless. When an elephant raises his trunk I am told he is only warning you. When he tucks his trunk away to protect it from possible harm then it becomes a serious attack. We have never hung around long enough to confirm this however.
Elephants communicate by sight, sound and touch. Recently we watched in amazement as a group of elephants came down to a dam in Addo Elephant Park to drink water. Among the animals was a new born calf and as the group moved quickly to the water a young animal rested its trunk on the baby’s back, gently guiding it along the path. Then the baby stood under her mother at the water’s edge where she appeared to be showing it how to drink water.
On a visit to Addo we came down a road and a group of cars were reversing towards us. A very large Bull Elephant was in charge of the road and cars were reversing to give it right of way. Because we had a trailer hitched to our car we could not reverse fast enough so all I could do was pull to the side and hope for the best. After the other cars had beaten a hasty retreat we watched the elephant approaching us. He was coming straight towards us and moved across the road to do so. As he got closer and closer we held our breath as we looked straight into his eyes. At the last minute he gave us a look of dismissal and brushed by our car and then left the road to disappear into the bush. Wow!
Yes, elephants are really amazing animals and probably my favorite ones. As long as they keep their distance and we are always careful to give herds with babies a lot of space.