Edited by Keri Harvey
It was when the sun saluted the earth that we started our early morning drive, but stopped soon afterwards to soak up the colours of sunrise close to Southern Camp. As we watched the new day dawn, helmeted guinea fowl darted past, calling: “Such good luck, such good luuuuuck. Good luck!” Or that’s what it sounded like.
We were slowly driving on towards the river when the tracker spotted fresh elephant spoor. But before we could finish chatting about the circular tracks of the animal, we heard the elephant herd nearby. They had gathered on the sandy banks of the Klaserie River, which cuts through Kapama, and the tracker motioned me to keep going in that direction.
As we drew closer, we saw the herd wasn’t on the move. Instead, all the senior cows were standing still and looking at us. We were momentarily confused. Then one younger cow started straining her body and leaned heavily against a jackalberry tree, as if borrowing strength from it. As she turned, a flood of warm fluid burst from her rear, washing and cleansing her flanks while she held her breath. The effort caused her tail to rise and, at that moment, there was a deluge of steaming liquid that accompanied the amniotic sac. It contained four slippery truncated legs, an elongated tubular nose and a rotund little body. The large ears seemed glued to the side of its perfect head, and in a single movement her calf plunged onto the river bank. Cautiously, with her right front foot, the cow touched the motionless calf still cocooned in its birth sack. The calf kicked its tiny feet in response and all the elephants present gathered around to welcome the newborn baby to the world.
As the young mother moved slightly forward, it was an opportunity for us to take rare photos of an elephant calf just a minute old. But the matriarch was unimpressed with us. She drew close to us and shook her head as a sign of her disapproval, so we retreated out of respect and gratitude for witnessing the miracle of new life.
As we moved, a yellow-brown tree squirrel edged out cautiously from between the jackalberry trees. The tiny animal’s long, bushy tail flicked nervously as it searched for seeds from the tree. He picked up a single seed and held it in both front feet, as if praying. It was at the same moment that an African fish eagle also announced his presence in this wilderness theatre and applauded: “God bless them! God bless them! God bless them all!” I don’t believe it wasn’t our imaginations, but an auspicious bushveld welcome for the newborn elephant calf.
Written by: Betheul Sithole, Southern Camp ranger
When we left the lodge for the morning game drive on 2 June 2014, elephants were top of mind. We wanted to see the giants of the African bush, and just five minutes into the drive my hopes were raised. I saw a disc-shaped print in the sand. It was the size of a dinner plate. Right next to it lay a pile of dung, still steaming it was so fresh.
I immediately stopped the vehicle, got out and pointed out the footprint to the guests on the game drive. “Do you know what this is?” I asked them with a knowing smile. Answers of “giraffe” and “rhino” came firing back at me, and then finally one guest said it: “Elephants.”
“Yes, yes,” I answered animatedly, “and the dung is so fresh, we can definitely follow the tracks.” A soft cheer came from the back of the vehicle as guests couldn’t contain their excitement. They knew an adventure had just begun.
I thought it wouldn’t take long before we found the elephant herd, but I was very wrong. The elephants were on a mission of their own, searching for another elephant herd in the area. Two-and-a-half hours later and a strong cup of coffee to modify my search plan, and then suddenly we heard a trumpet from deep in the bush.
“What was that?” a guest asked curiously. Tracker Cazwell Mmola answered back: “Elephants. And they are close.” We quickly packed up the coffee picnic and rushed in their direction. An open patch appeared in the bush and there they were: a herd of majestic African elephants, quietly drinking water from a small mud pan. Some guests sighed in relief, others in wonder, and cameras clicked in the excitement of the sighting. We stayed for 20 minutes, soaking up the experience and then left the herd to continue their daily routine.
The American gentleman sitting behind me, tapped me gently on my shoulder and said: “This truly was a morning dedicated to following Africa’s giants.”
Written by Rassie Jacobs, ranger: Kapama River Lodge
Edited by Keri Harvey
On a beautiful clear and pleasant afternoon on Kapama Game Reserve we had an epic sighting building up which culminated the moment we arrived. My guests and I found a big bull Elephant bull (around 30 years of age) and a younger bull (possibly late teens) having a bit of a tussle.
The older bull was clearly much bigger, so as we watched I didn’t expect this to go on much further than a few pushes and shoves before the younger bull would retreat from the bigger much more dominant bull. To my surprise the younger bull however wasn’t going to give up and the bigger one now had an aggressive teenager to deal with.
We were parked quite a bit further than the minimum distance for these big animals as from past experiences I knew that when two elephants really get into it, trees and anything else in their path will be demolished. Sure enough after a big shove from the older bull the teenager swung around and saw us at the end of the road. He gave us an exhilarating mock charge and I had to quickly give him some space.
He stopped charging after a short distance and I knew he was just a bit frustrated for not being able to dominate the bigger bull. As all this was happening the older bull then started to display a behavior I’ve heard of but not yet actually seen. He was kneeling down and it looked like he was injured. The younger bull noticed this and tried to shove him while he was down. As the teenager was close enough again the bigger bull quickly rose to his feet and gave the youngster a proper hiding.
It seemed as if the older bull “faked” injury and submission to lure the younger one back so the fight could continue. All my guests and I left that sighting with plenty to talk about at the dinner table.
Mike Duncan Powell – Southern Camp
This morning we were treated to an interesting and quite a rare sighting of Elephants interacting with Monitor lizards at a waterhole. It all started with Elephants drinking water near to Monitor lizard’s basking in the sun on some rocks on the waters’ edge.
Two young Elephant bulls noticed them and started splashing water at them and making short trumpeting charges, time and again sending the lizards diving into the water. At one stage the lizards surfaced very close to the elephants and they both got such a massive fright, that they ran away into the bush!
Who ever knew that Monitor Lizards can make Elephants scamper away like that with their tails between their legs?
This must be one of the funniest sights I have witnessed in the wild, and couldn’t help but smile every time I replay this comical incident in my mind.
Ranger – Kapama Main Lodge
I am asked quite often if and how we interfere with the welfare and lives of the animals we view on game drive. The simplest answer is no, we let nature to nature, but that is not always the case. Recently our large bull elephant got into somewhat of a tussle with a wandering neighbor bull. Subsequently his right tusk was broken. Now, elephants “in the wild” also fight, also break their tusks, and when nature is left to nature they may survive from such an injury or they may die a rather gruesome death from infection. Because our animals are in our wild, they are a part of our family, and are an investment of Kapama Private Game Reserve, when some thing like this occurs we step in.
Instead of letting this particular bull get a rather nasty infection in and around the broken shaft of his former tusk, and thus going crazy from pain and infection, we brought in a vet. We darted him and smoothed out the ragged edges so that infection would not occur. I was lucky enough to be a part of the darting along with two other rangers from River Lodge, two rangers from Main Lodge, Oom Paul from Camp Jabulani, and other Kapama personnel. We tracked and found him easily enough. The vet darted him using a mixture that is the equivalent of a dosage of morphine able to kill humans. He wandered for about 100 meters and then passed out. We checked his vitals. Supplied a stick to keep his trunk passage open, and made sure to poor generous amounts of water over his body, particularly his ears, so he stayed as cool and calm as possible.
The whole operation took about three hours. After which he was given an antidote to the sedative and as we sat silently watching, he rolled to his feet, looked around, and slowly meandered off. (One is want to muse if the bull was thinking, “what a strange dream I just had….”) Three nights later my guests and I watched him nonchalantly eating and walking, going about his normal elephant business, safe and healthy. It is not every day that we as rangers get to assist in such a fun, fantastic adventure and learning experience; it definately re-news your love of the bush!
Story by: Noelle Di Lorenzo- Kapama River Lodge Ranger