Just Another Day at the Watering Hole

30 09 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel Date: 7.18.08

“This is not a good day to see Elephants,” our guide informed us as we were on our way to Addo Elephant Park, “It’s too cloudy.” We were only a few blocks from our hostel, so I thought about asking for a refund, and walking back. But I figured 400 elephants live in Addo National Park, so we were bound to see some of them. Next, our guide asked us where we were from in the States. When we told him Mississippi, he poorly imitated a Southern accent, then laughed hysterically at himself. I was amazed that in two sentences he had been able to set us up for a disappointing day, then patronize us. Definitely not the best tour guide we’ve had. Nonetheless, the day turned out to be a success.

We began our tour at the south entrance of the park, and drove through a few miles of bush. Warthogs trotted along beside the van, while kudu froze for a second to assess the danger, then bounded off. We scanned the bush for elephants. You would think it difficult for something with a shoulder height of 10-13 feet, and a weight between 8,000 and 26,000 pounds to hide itself. But it’s easy to point out an elephant from 100 feet away, only to discover you have taken a picture of a rock.

Our first stop was a watering hole, where most of the activity happens. As we drove up, a herd of twenty elephants were gathered around drinking. In watching their social interactions, elephants surprisingly resemble humans. The younger elephants ran underfoot splashing each other in the shallow waters. Over to the side of the watering hole, two elephants nuzzled each other with their trunks. At one point a pair of very large males confronted each other by opening their ears to make themselves look bigger and pushing each other with their trunks and tusks. While elephants are not territorial, only one herd at a time will drink from the watering hole. If another herd approaches, they will wait until the first one is finished before drinking. The elephants don’t even like the warthogs hanging around. Every now and then a warthog felt bold enough to dash up to the water’s edge and drink until an elephant would walk towards the pig waving it’s trunk to scare it off.

While our guide lacked tact, he knew the habits of the elephants. Instead of stopping at an area where we could get out of the car and walk up a platform to view another watering hole, we headed towards the largest watering hole in the park. Our guide zipped past five cars parked with a great view of the watering hole and stopped our car facing the road. He said the elephants would probably cross the road when they were finished drinking. Sure enough, fifteen minutes after we arrived, the herd passed twenty feet in front of our car.

When I was growing up, my mother always told me that Charles, Michele, Cynthia, and I sounded like a herd of elephants as we tore through the house trampling everything in our path. I have now learned that a herd of elephants is incredibly quiet. As they walked past us, I expected a Jurassic Park scene with huge thuds and the ground trembling. I heard nothing but their ears flapping, as they created their own air conditioning system to cool their skin. These eight ton animals walk with amazing precision as they clustered together and carefully placed their tree-like feet on the ground. Now if these powerful animals decided to charge our van, I’m sure it would sound like my me and my cousins. Our guide told us that most of the elephants are used to cars, but that his car had been charged by one of the elephants new to the park.

The park opened in the 1930’s in an attempt to save the last 11 elephants surviving in the area. The population has thrived and gown to over 400 elephants. As you can imagine, there has been a fair amount of inbreeding. When many of the elephants started losing their tusks because of the inbreeding, the park replaced five bulls (male elephants) with ones from Kruger National Park, a wildlife park near Johannesburg. Because Kruger is a much larger park, these elephants were not used to cars driving so closely, and have been known to charge at cars. Fortunately, the Kruger elephants were not at the waterhing hole that day.

The baby elephants are my favorite. They have cute short trunks, and little legs (comparatively, since they still weigh 250 lbs when they are born). The smallest ones I saw reached the stomachs of the other elephants and would run through the adults legs or sometimes reach up with their trunks and pull their tails. At one point a baby elephant put its trunk on the ground and had its tail sticking in the air. We asked our guide what it was doing. “Just playing,” he said. I have decided I want a baby elephant for Christmas.

Click here to check out Pictures of Addo at our Flickr Site***



One response

9 10 2008

Oh BOY!! This is one of the most adorable pictures!!!! i hope you ran to hug it, LoYo!

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