Addo roadblocks, big butts and all

Don’t you just hate a road block? A lady or gent in uniform with a reflector jacket walking around your car and then asking you for your license. Or the “in thing” lately, the burning tires and throwing stones type roadblock. Or the pothole in the road roadblock where you have to wait for cars from the other side to pass before you can drive around it. Then there are the roadblocks you encounter on the roads in the old Transkei part of rural Eastern Cape. They type manned by cows, goats, donkey’s and baster brakke. One roadblock I really don’t mind though is the one you are likely to encounter in Addo Elephant National Park.

Strange how it is possible to sit in a roadblock like this for ages (I sat in one for over an hour once) and you just don’t mind doing so. Even more so if you start humming… “I like big butts and I cannot lie, You other brothers can’t deny…” with the voice of Donkey from Shrek singing it in your head.

Mamma elephant in the lead

A group of elephants is called a herd and is usually made up of females and youngsters. As soon as a young bull reaches sexual maturity he gets nudged out and joins other bulls in a bachelor herd of some sorts. Each herd is basically a family group led by a matriarch, an older and more experienced female, and is made up of her sisters, daughters and their calves.

The matriarch needs to be a lady of wisdom, strong connections and confidence as she has to guide her family group and they look at her for guidance to find water or food sources when there is drought. They also rely on the matriarch’s wisdom and experience to find the safest solution when they are faced with danger. 

One of the things you notice when visiting a park like Addo Elephant National Park is how the matriarch takes the lead and the rest of the family group follows behind her when they are on the move, especially on their way to water. You can always spot her as she is usually the biggest female in the group and often not scared to stand up to pushy bulls.

When the matriarch elephant dies, her position is usually taken by the closest relative to her, typically her oldest daughter. 

Waterhole gatherings

The best places to watch elephants in the Addo Elephant National Parks are at the waterholes, most notably Hapoor, Domkrag, Gwarrie Pan, the Woodlands loop dam and Marion Bree. This is often where you see the biggest groups together as well as the most activity and interaction. So that it is possible to sit at a waterhole for literally hours observing and photographing them. Not that most people do. They enjoy the sighting and move on to see what else there is to spot.

As Addo doesn’t have rivers with natural flowing water, man made dams have been created that are fed by bore hole water. They are all close to the road to allow unobstructed viewing of the animals while they spend time by the water.

Elephants drink up to 200 liters of water a day and also need to cool down bathing and throwing the water over their backs. Because of this they spend a lot of time at the waterholes, especially in summer and you’re probably most likely to have a sighting there during the hotter part of the day.

As elephants are very destructive feeders, along with the fact that they spend so much time by the water, the vegetation around the waterholes are often very much thinned out. The park has a policy where the water supply to the waterholes are often rotated so that the elephants have to move around to other waterholes and give the vegetation a bit of a break.

Relaxing after a mud bath

Ellies love to cover themselves in water and mud. You will often see that they arrive at the waterholes in Addo, have a drink and and then start to spray water over their backs or roll around in the water and mud. I have to correct myself though. They don’t literally spray themselves, but rather throw the water from their trunks with a swinging motion.

Why do they do it though? The elephant’s skin may look think and rough, but it is quite sensitive in fact. They have very few hair and sweat glands and find it hard to cool off in the harsh African temperatures. The mud not only cools them down, but it also provides a protective layer on their body to shield them from insect bites and sunburn.

Something else you often see is that an elephant would stand around lifting one leg slightly while putting their weight on the other three legs. I read somewhere that it is to relax their legs one at a time as they always stand and don’t really lie down.

I have also read that they don’t just hear airborne sounds over distances by holding their ears out, but that they listen to the ground. They pick up low-frequency rumbles caused by other animals up to 20 miles away via their feet. They put their weight on the front feet and sometimes lift one foot off the ground “to hear better”.

I miss my ellie friends

Way back when I started working in the tourism industry I worked as a freelance tourist guide and one of the companies that used me had tours going to Addo Elephant National Park just about every day.  That means that I got to go to the park 5 or 6 times a week and I never got tired of it.  These days I don’t get to visit Addo nearly as much as I would like to and when I had the opportunity to drive through it on my way to a meeting I didn’t say no.  It was nice to spend some time with my old ellie friends, even if it was only for an hour or two.

Tuskless elephant

The majority of the female elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park are tuskless.  The general opinion amongst laymen is that it’s because of selective hunting of the elephants with big tusks in the late 19th and early 20th century while others think it may be due to the vegetation (structure and/or nutrient composition) of the area.  Long term records have been used to assess trends and it has been found that although it could have played a roll, selective hunting solely cannot provide adequate explanations for the high frequency of tusklessness.  Non-selective genetic changes resulting from the population’s isolation, small size and bottlenecks (during the 1800s and 1920s) are suggested to be primarily responsible for the ladies in Addo not having tusks. 

Random elephant "did you knows"

I haven’t done a “Random …” post in ages, so for today I’m doing three
Random elephant did you knows. 
An elephant’s trunk, which is a fusion of their nose and upper lip, contains over 100,000 different muscles.  African Elephants also have two finger like features on the end of their trunk that they can use to grab small items with.  Indian Elephants on the other hand only has one of those “fingers”.  An elephant can lift up to 350kg with their trunks. 

Elephants have circular feet with soft tissues or “cushion pads” beneath the manus and pes.  This helps to distribute the weight of the animal.  They appear to have an extra “toe” similar in placement to a giant panda’s extra “thumb”, that also helps with weight distribution.  Five toenails can be found on both the front and hind feet.

Elephants have their mammary glands situated between their front legs similar to humans and primates and strangely enough, they do look like breasts.
The pictures were all taken in the Addo Elephant National Park

The magnificence that is Addo Elephant National Park

I’ve been in the tourism industry for 16 years and first started out working as a tourist guide back in 1998.  Back then I used to go to Addo Elephant National Park sometimes as often as 5 or 6 times a week and people used to ask if I didn’t get tired of going there.  I did get tired of the drive to and from the park but I would never get tired of the park itself.  It quickly became one of my favorite places to take tourists and I enjoyed ever new day as much as the one before, getting as excited as my guests when we encountered elephants or other game.  These days I don’t get to visit the park anywhere close to what I would like to, but when I do I make the most of it.  I often think people who have never been to Addo don’t realise how special the park really is and those comparing it to Kruger does it a great injustice.  No it’s not Kruger but it offers magnificent sightings, amongst it the best wild African elephant sightings in the world.  Tourist guides like my friend Craig Duffield of Mosiac Tourism calls Addo his office.  I often wish I still did.

Baby elephant at Addo Elephant National Park

International visitors to South Africa all has Kruger Park on their lists of places to see in the country but what many of them don’t realise is that you can get just as good an experience in the Eastern Cape.  Addo Elephant National Park is probably one of the most under rated game parks in the country with perceptions changing as soon as people get there.  You may not be able to spend 4 or 5 days there like in Kruger, but the variety of animals, birds, plants and sightings are up there with the best.  On my last visit we were watching a family right next to the road and this little guy decided to move away from his mother and allow to snap his picture.