South Africa - Spring 2006 travel blog

buffalo - one of the Big Five

precious dung beetle

elephant and warthog

elephant nursing

elephants

more

arriving for tea time

kudu

shanty town

Vervet monkey

warthog


We left the seashore and headed north and inland. The scenery remained green and agricultural, but the tourism offerings lessen considerably and it began to look more like the Africa I expected with shanty towns and beater cars. Our goal was Addo Elephant National Park.

The elephant and the farmer have had an acrimonious relationship since they lived side by side. The farmers grow green stuff and the elephants eat it - 350 - 400 pounds of vegetation a day. As the farmers grew more populous, the elephant was exterminated because one small herd could wipe out a farmer in half an hour. In the early 1930's the elephant population in Addo had shrunk to ten. Fortunately for all concerned, the national park was created with a large electrified fence that kept these two adversaries from one another. The elephants have plenty to eat inside and plenty of room to roam and conduct their elephant lives, and the farmers are safe outside and can raise fruit and vegetables. Today the elephant population of Addo is over 300.

The park has an extensive network of paved and gravel roads and we were free to drive our RV's wherever we wanted to go until 6pm when the gates are locked and the animals have peace and quiet. The first movement in the bush that we noticed were a family of warthogs. These energetic creatures have a face only a mother could love, but their energy and perky movements made them fun to watch. We drove a bit farther and looming over the hill was a huge male elephant brandishing enormous tusks. We both gasped. Lucky for us, he was not in the least bit concerned by our presence and ambled off looking for more of the green. Behind him he left a trailing of steaming dung.

We soon learned that if we could see fresh dung, an elephant had to be nearby. Since very little of what an elephant eats is digested, massive amounts come out the other end. Mother Nature in her strange and mysterious way, has created an animal that takes advantage of this fact and eats the dung and lays its eggs in dung balls. Since the elephants enjoy taking advantage of the paved roads, dung beetles do their feasting in the road as well. Road signs cautioned us not to drive over the dung and kill these little recyclers. Judging by all the squished bugs in the road, tourists were not very compliant in this regard.

Elephants drink over 25 gallons of water a day, so the best place to spot them is near the watering holes, which are grassy, but don't have the taller vegetation that makes the elephants difficult to see in the bush. Just as we pulled up to a hole, a herd of about fifteen elephants, ranging in size from patriarch to newly born, galloped up to the hole and started slurping and squirting. We were in awe by how affectionate and touchy they were with one another. Trunks were intertwined and heads gently touched. The only exception to this was with the teenage male elephants who were not welcome to be with the group. Whenever they tried to sneak in, the group circled the wagons and trumpeted their warning to stay away. The teenage boys had to wait until the herd had had their fill.

We had barely recovered from this awesome sight, when another even larger herd moved in for their afternoon tea time. As they drank a warthog family tried to join in, but whenever they got close, an elephant would blast them with a trunkful of water. Finally, the baby flapped its ears and raised its trunk in a childlike attempt to look ferocious and the warthogs ran back into the bush. As we drove on we happened upon a playful group of Vervet monkeys and statuesque Kudo very willing to pose. We also saw a buffalo. Two of the big five on our first day in a national park. Can't wait til tomorrow!

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