Images & Text by Candace Grey

There is nothing quite like enjoying a cold drink on a hot day and watching as a herd of elephants quietly crowd around the small pan in front of camp. It’s often a wonder how such a large animal can avoid succumbing to heat-stress. Well, after the past few weeks, it would appear the heat, coupled with the lack of rain, has taken its toll on these great beasts.

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Each day the air was broken with sound of deep rumbles, urgent roars and agitated trumpeting from a large breeding herd that had taken a liking to the Cheetah Plains area. Although we see that the bush is slowly showing signs of life with fresh shoots, it is going to take a long while before it regains its former lush lustre. This is not quite providing the required amount of nutrition for these elephants. It is no wonder that an area where there is quite a good supply of roots, and other nutritious vegetation, will be subjected to a great deal of elephant activity.

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Even when not visible, there was never a doubt that the elephants were not far off; the audible proof of their presence made clear through the sharp crack of a young tree as it’s bulldozed flat. Whereas we appreciate the gesture of the elephants wanting to assist in landscaping, it does make for a bit of an eye-sore when driving through the bush, especially so since it is so dry and so a crooked tree and the litter of twigs is all too stark. After a couple of days of this, we did hear of reports that a couple of cows had been seen with fresh afterbirth dangling from behind whilst their new calves stumbled about on wobbly legs, swinging their jelly-like trunks.

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After seeing all of this “landscaping efforts”, it becomes very clear that elephants are the type of animals who, if they see something that they want, they will get it, even if that means breaking down Gary’s fence!

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As big as they are, these creatures are easily stressed. A large irony, if there ever was one. The ripping and tearing up of saplings, young trees and shrubs is not blatant mischievous behaviour. Elephants are one of the few mammals that can forage for roots and chew on the moist inner bark of most trees; and with the dwindling quantities of greens and water, their desperation for nourishment pushes them closer to camps and lodges where they can smell the water from the swimming pools and from the odd times when we spray the flowers.

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Another reason to look at is taken from the earlier mentioned calving. The females in the heard become quite agitated when it is nearing the time to give birth. The males also become excited because of a rise in hormonal levels of the females and so this would cause a bit of sexual frustration among the bulls. And like any situation where an animal is frustrated, it will take it out on the nearest object, in this case a tree.

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As most of us know, elephants can be very destructive; but it is good to know that it is not without reason. When watching a large bull calmly taking a drink from Cheetah Plains pan, it brings back the thought that the great African Bush would be empty without them.