Sawubona - here we goPart 1: There’s no I in TEAM – a BIG elephant lesson
It’s hot, really HOT. At 6am when we set off from Tamboti the car’s thermometer said – 4 C and now, 7 hours later, it’s 30. But it feels like 40 in the blistering hot African sun. There are no clouds to protect us as we sit in our car at N’Semani Dam 9 km from Satara on the H-7 to Orpen gate. It is our last day in Kruger.
Sweat beads roll off my forehead and down my back. My t-shirt is sticky with perspiration. Yet, we doggedly have the cars AC and engine shut off for we are just 60 m from a small group of elephants (5) drinking the cool waters from the dam.
It is a beautiful sight…..it’s how I dreamt an African landscape to be.
The road to Orpen (the direction we are facing) dips and curves gradually from left to right in front of us before disappearing out of view into the dense scrub about 1 km away. The “dip” is the dam wall and we are perched on it (in our car of course) with 3 other vehicles for company. (One is a YR. But leaves soon, waving at us, but not stoping to chat
The relatively flat plains of this section of Kruger stretch to the distant horizon on our left, regularly punctuated with knob thorn, marula and leadwood. On the right is the dam, roughly the size of 5 Olympic pools is split into 2 interconnected waterholes. The larger one, where the ellies are, is nearer to us while the smaller one is to the farther Orpen end. While the land appears flat on the “water” side it is actually a series of ridges that create this collection point for the precious water. This is the largest waterhole we have seen in the park and it is a magnet for both animals and birds.
The ellies drink with their “trumpet” routine curling their trunks into a lasso after filling them up and then thrusting the trunks into their pink mouths they roll back their heads and gush the water clumsily, ears flapping & tails swinging in accompaniment.
Beyond the ellies, on a large flat bank is a large herd of impala busy grazing on the greener grass the presence of water brings. They patiently wait their turn.
Suddenly we notice puffs of dust in the air from one of the ridges. Then more elephant break into view.
Too many to count, they trundle purposefully to the waters edge lining up to drink. But, not all do so immediately. Some stay back a bit and keep a close eye as the smaller ones get first dibs – just like Mums watching their kids at a swimming pool. Some of the larger elephant stand guard taking up positions between the drinkers and any possible danger. They face away from the waterhole on alert. When the herd troops in it is always “bookended” with the biggest animals taking the font and rear positions. The calves are always protected by 2 larger elies by “sandwiching” them – just like parents walk their kids across an intersection.
With the herd lined up I am able to do a count – 25 fill my viewfinder! I click away.
The heat doesn’t bother me anymore…I am on a Kruger high. Squeals of delight come from both the calves frolicking at the waters edge and from our kids in the back seat.
But wait….there is another group of elephants making their way to the dam….possibly all part of the one herd. They cross the road at the Open end, “disappear” into the ridge and then “reappear” at the water. There are 13 in this group taking the total to a whopping 38! There are a few revellers amongst the latter mob. Must be a bunch of “teenage” boys. A couple of them rush into the water splashing all in the way. They go deeper than the main group with a “look at us. We’re cool” air about them.
When they realise no one is giving them any attention they reluctantly come out. However, one of them has not given up yet. He starts a show stopping performance at the waters edge swaying his trunk, dragging it in the water, creating splashes. Then his right leg joins in, in a windscreen wiper rythym. His mother then approaches and looks on with what to me is the look all Mums have when they have lost control of their kids behaviour. If she were human she’d have both hands on her hips and say “Thomas, that’s enough. Stop playing with your drink immediately. You hear me boy?”
Thomas stops, for a moment, and then with renewed nonchalance starts swinging his left rear foot with the trunk. Mum gives up and leaves in a huff. Not getting any attention from anyone, Thomas gets out of the water. I can almost see a sulk on his face. (No pics. But we take a video of this display
)'Thomas" the danceing ellie @ N'Semani
The elephants have had their refreshing afternoon bevvie (I could do with a chilled Castle meself
) and its time to head off. The troop leaders assume their bookend positions but only 5 set off to cross the road, which by this time is jam packed with 15 vehicles jockeying for the best viewing position. The lead ellie walks onto the middle of the road swinging her trunk and tail and flapping her ears to show she means business. More cars have queued on the Satara end as news of this great sighting spreads through the cell phone network. I can’t help but think “I’d prefer the days of the jungle drums. Much more romantic”.
A chain of 5 elephants form a wall across the road. We have by this time driven our car away from the traffic jam, turned the car around and now sit facing Satara and in the shade of a large bush. One red Golf driver has manoeuvred himself into “prime position” and is parked across the road and in striking distance from the elephant chain. Humans may have bigger brains than elies but still have a lot to learn from them when it comes to social graces. :rtfm:
The road block is complete. Hold on ! The rest of the herd has broken up into smaller groups each with a mix of small, medium and large ellies. They head into the bush, not crossing the road at the road-block ?. (They will cross at a safer spot further down the road away from the cars).
Oh, my God!
The road block is a DIVERSION! We are suckers. The road-block grabs our attention and while we are absorbed the main herd has disappeared into the safety of the bush. An Army General would have been proud of the manouevre.
With the ellies going the Impala now come in for a drink. At one stage the elephant are moving left to right while the impis drift in right to left. It looks like a dance….and African bush waltz.
Then a warthog couple come in to drink and roll in the cool mud and feed on the dung.
We have now been enjoying this ‘live performance’ for 45 minutes and all looks quiet at N’Semani again. In fact if you drove in now you’d call me a liar if I told you what had transpired at the waterhole. It’s a matter of luck……and patience……and perseverance……and karma.
Maria, starts the car as we need to check out at the Orpen Gate…..it’s our last day in Kruger, remember. We head up the road to do a U-turn and then we see a Tripod at the smaller waterhole (which was sheltered from view). No, its not a tripod it’s a quadropod! A Giraffe in its drinking position, legs splayed in four directions that is ungainly yet beautiful at the same time.
It looks like someone has knocked off the top of the Eiffel Tower as it bends its neck to drink.
What a sighting ! What a day ! What a trip !
But, this is only one hour of our Kruger trip and it’s at the end.
So, let’s start at the very beginning….
“A very good place to start” chimes my 9 yr old daughter who knows her Sound of Music.
However, that my friends, will have to wait till next time. Till then/a suivre……..