Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Addo Elephant Park

It's difficult to feel anything but optimistic about Africa when you're in the bush and see all the vibrant life that is there.  I was fortunate tov visit two game parks, one near Capetown, the other near Port Elizabeth.
  Addo Elephant Park is 13,500 hectares.  It started smaller and there are plans to increase the park by buying adjoining farmlands.  It's about a one and a half hour drive from Capetown.  There are several private game parks, also, and it was a little strange to be driving along in our bus, look out and see fenced fields, not that different from those at home with cows in them, only these had grazing zebras.
  While the elephants are the focus of the park, given its name, there are many other animals there, also.  Here is a sampling:

First, this is what the terrain looked like in this park.  We were there during the dry season, but there were a couple of water holes.
   The second picture is the first animal we saw, and large tortoise who did not look overjoyed to see us, but it also did not let our appearance interrupt its meal.  Tortoises of various sizes were all around the open areas of the park.
   These are weaver bird nests and are quite interesting.  The male bird builds a nest, hoping to attract a female.  Once it is complete, he hangs out in front, flapping his wings until a female comes over to look over the nest.  If she approves, she moves in.  If she doesn't, she picks the nest apart, and the male has to begin all over again.  Don't feel too sorry for him, though, for once a female moves in, he starts the whole process over again, building a new nest to attract another female.
  The nests are cleverly costructed to keep the eggs safe from the birds' main predator, snakes.  There are two rooms, a front and a back one, and the eggs are laid and kept in the back.  A snake that wants a meal has to coil itself around the branch the nest hangs from, lower itself, enter through the opening the birds use as the front door, and then it has to get through the front room and into the back.  As our guide put it, snakes don't have a very strong ability to concentrate, and often by the time they are attempting the third step, the entry into the back, they have forgotten what the first step was, and so they let go of the branch and fall.  Some birds have learned to build their nests on branches hanging over flowing water because then, when the snake falls, it is swept away and so can't climb back up to try again.

These are three young lions, clearly the best of friends, soaking up the sun.

Ok, next on the list are elephants.  Lots of elephants.  This whole herd came down to drink.
The big fellow behind the baby was by far the largest elephant in the herd.  He was called John-Paul, and you will see him again.
African elephants have much bigger ears than Indian elephants.  When they feel threatened, they surround the babies and spread their ears wide, to make themselves look larger.  The three shown here were always near each other, so I think they were a mother and two of her babies, born in different years.
 John-Paul again.  He's big.
Real big.  To make matters more interesting, he's in must.  This means he;s in season, ready, willing, and able to mate.  When a bull elephant is in must, a gland that runs on each side of his face roughly from ear to eye becomes obvious.  It looked at least a couple of inches wide, and reddish.  Also, he can't control his urine, so his back legs are always wet.  As one woman in my landrover asked, "Why would a female want to mate with a guy who's always peeing?"  I guess femal elephants have different priorities.
  A male in must can be unpredictable, and aggressive.  When J-P wandered into the parking area, our guide warned us to be very quiet.  The lady in the blue car kept her window open, making a video.  A moment after I took this picture, though, J-P started sniffing and feeling the car door handle with his trunk.  She kept filming, and when he started investigating her, she quickly closed the window.
Next he decided to investigate one of the landrovers.  The people inside were half-thrilled, half-afraid.  He moved his trunk over the outside of the vehicle, seemingly more interested in it than in the people inside.  He was merely curious, our guide told us.  And eventually he got bored and wandered off.
  The rest of the herd had left the waterhole, but they waited on the other side of the parking lot for him.  Elephants are very family oriented, and like to be together.  I was told that when a close family member dies, they grieve.  Another guide told me that he'd been following a herd in which the oldest matriarch was becoming weak.  As she followed the herd, she kept wobbling, and then falling.  The others waited for her.  After a time, though, it became apparent that she was suffering.  At that point, two males came to where she lay on the ground and stabbed her with their trunks.  The guide said this was a act of mercy, to end her suffering.  I have no idea what to believe, but seeing how the herd treated the young ones in their midst, I can believe I saw affection and even love.

Now for something completely different - some of the other wildlife I saw:
Dung beetles.
And a warthog and her baby.
I never thought I'd use the words 'warthog' and 'cute' in the same sentence, but this baby was adorable.

One last elephant.

1 comment:

  1. glad you are feeling better, and getting out and about