Chamomile Tea with Elephants
The shortest day in Selati, could have started like many others. We all start to stir just before the sun starts to come up, drinking our morning tea and coffee around a fire, except today was different. We were awoken by the sounds of Elephants and Lions, who were on the opposite side of the riverbank somewhere close to the camp. These two magnificent animals were not very happy with each other, one had obviously disturbed the other and they were busy telling each other off, each trying to stake a claim to that particular area.
Throughout the morning I could hear the tell tales that the Elephants were still around, and around one o clock the first bull crossed the riverbed and came up to camp for a quick snack before deciding to move back to the other side of the river and look for his friends, he is one of four bulls that have formed their own little bachelor herd.
Apprentice Trails Guide student Jason learning the secrets of elephants, digging for freshwater. Photographs © Emma Summers
Before lunch, the breeding herd of Elephants, with some tiny babies came down from the trees on one of the many game paths into the river and proceeded to kick and dig about in the sand. Why? Well, if you dig down into the sand, even though the Selati riverbed looks dry you can find an abundance of fresh drinking water. Sitting on the top of the riverbank I silently watched the elephants sucking up water into their trunks, occasionally stopping to sniff the air, smelling for danger. The breeding herd was there for a good couple of hours, moving up the game path once they had had their fill of water, allowing more elephants to come down, dig and drink.
Photographs © Emma Summers
As the sun started to set to all the Elephants moved back up along the other side of the river to feed, I could occasionally catch glimpses of them as they moved around the trees.
Walking down from my tent at night to the dining area, I heard the distinctive branches breaking. The bull Elephants like silent ninjas were back in camp. After eating dinner, chilling around the fire for a short while, turning off the camp’s water (these four boys like to pull up the pipes looking for freshwater after eating) we decided to have an early night. As it is nearly the full moon, we could see the Elephants beautifully silhouetted in the moonlight without needing to use our torches. When I got back to my tent, I could hear the elephants and knew that they were heading in my direction. I turned off my solar light, grabbed my cup of chamomile tea, put my hot water bottle under my jacket to keep me warm, and waited silently behind the mesh door for them to arrive.
Photographs © Emma Summers
An Elephant Feast
I didn’t have to wait long. These two massive figures appeared eating at the trees no more than 5m away from where I was sitting. They always seem to have a favorite tree, a False Marula part of it has been knocked over the other half went into this weird arch, this tree refuses to give in to the elephants growing taller and stronger each year, even if it is and a weird angle. I couldn’t help but laugh as one Elephant decided to crawl l under the bent tree reaching for the branches he wanted along the way. It was amazing to see the elephants using their trucks to grab at a branch and then either strip it of its leaves or break the branch off. They would occasionally gently touch each other’s faces and when they both wanted the same branch a quick harder tap from the bigger dominant bull reminded the smaller one who was in charge. I did have to a couple of times ask them to be a bit gentler with the trees and not break off so many branches as they provide my tent with vital shade in the summer. It was incredible being able to hear their powerful jaws grinding the food that they eat, the sound of their dung hitting the ground, and also as they passed gas. After you have had elephants that close to you, you will never be able to forget that musky, earthy Elephant smell. After an hour of watching them there feeding slowed down, I was getting cold so I slipped into bed, the sounds of them chewing gently lulling me to sleep before they silently slipped away.
Elephant Fun Fact
All this eating made me curious if we need on average 2,000 calories a day to support our body’s how much does an Elephant that can weigh up to 6 tons need? I found an answer. The African adult male Elephants at San Diego Zoo Safari Park consume on average 70,000 calories a day which is less than their wild counterparts as they don’t have to move vast distances looking for food. No wonder they need to spend up to 18 hours a day feeding.
Have you been lucky enough to see a baby elephant in action?
Check out this speedy baby elephant sliding down the riverbed at the EcoTraining Pridelands Conservancy. The little one sure was in a hurry to get to the water.
About the Author:
Emma Summers is an EcoTraining Camp Manager at Selati Game Reserve.