Well, maybe there wasn’t an elephant in our room while we traveled to southern Africa this August but we were pretty close to them. So close and they seemed so friendly, Diane asked our guide what would happen if we stepped out of the vehicle amongst them. “They’d kill you,” came the short reply.
This is the final of my series on our South Africa and Botswana adventure. I didn’t want this to become like “My Summer Vacation” as you’ll recall from your grade school days. But I see readership has fallen to the point of that’s where I am so I’ll wrap it up with elephants. Short. Lotsa pix. And maybe a smidge on rhinoceros.
We saw elephants everywhere: in the grassy fields, at the watering holes, crossing the river, in the mud, in the dust, among the trees. Most of the time they were eating any greenery they could find so it was no surprise to see the savannah’s trees and shrubbery looking pretty beat-up in the dry winter season. “Just wait until the wet season,” we were advised. “All of this will be green as it comes back to life again.”
It was a little surprising to see that these big beasts didn’t stop with just the tender green leaves and grasses. With their trunks they’d ripe up grass, leaves, and limbs and toss them into their mouths. But also went saplings and thorn bushes. And these weren’t like blackberries but you’d imagine like they used to craft Jesus’ crown of thorns. The elephants didn’t blink…just ate them.
Next thing we learned is that their digestive system is pretty poor. So better than half of what went in the front came out the back without doing their big bodies much good. That means a lot more eating and a lot more savannah-tromping.
Some other elephant factoids: Elephants don’t sweat so the mud baths and dusting you see in documentaries is to keep them cool. After a nice dog-paddle across the river and coming out clean, the first order of business is a nice mud bath and a coat of dry dust. You can tell if an elephant is left- or right-handed by seeing which tusk is worn down shorter due to digging and other tusk work.
It’s the female, the matriarch, rather than the bull elephant who runs the show for the herd. With all that chewing, elephant teeth wear down. When they are too stubby to do any good, they fall out and a new set comes in to replace them. The bad news is that after six cycles, there will not be another replacement set and this massive food machine will waste away and die.
A quickie on rhinoceros. Some rich Chinese believe powdered rhinoceros horn to be a better aphrodisiac than Viagra and, being billionaires, will pay black market prices for the stuff. The only way for poachers to get horn is to kill the animal. In an effort to protect the rhinoceros population, rangers in parks and preserves tranquilize the animals, cut off the horns and release the hornless beasts back into the park. They are no longer of interest to poachers…until the horn grows back. They are not bone but collagen, hair glued together like our own fingernails.
Here’s an irony. The severed horns are locked in vaults in the preserves and parks. How much are they worth? Millions? But only on the black market so they stay locked up in this effort to save the rhinoceros.