7 Weeks in Kruger: Shingwedzi Elephant Calf School
Updated: Nov 11, 2018
I’ve spent the last few days in the Shingwedzi area of Kruger National Park.
Shingwedzi is famous for being prime elephant country in the Kruger. The availability of low profile trees, including plenty of mopane, and sources of water that persist through the dry season mean the area is able to support significant elephant populations.
Historically, Shingwedzi was also famous for the ‘Magnificent Seven’ - huge tuskers that lived in the area and made for superb viewing with their impressive tusks. All seven elephants have now died from old age but their legend adds to the connection between this local environment and the world’s heaviest land animal.
On game drives, elephant sightings are consequently very common here and my experience in the last few days has been no different! At one point on the S55 / Lamont Loop, I was hanging back from a group of elephants taking shade from the heat under a tree right next to the road. Out of nowhere, more elephants appeared from in front and behind my vehicle simultaneously, blocking my escape routes.
While not intentional (and not particularly advisable!) these situations can occasionally occur and the best advice is to turn off the engine, sit tight and - probably nervously - enjoy the experience of being surrounded by a huge herd of elephants. Thankfully the 35-strong herd of elephants didn’t mind my being sat there at all, despite the presence of several very young calves.
Watching the youngsters was a wonderful experience. They are constantly learning through copying the adults and by trial and error. Their energy and emotions are very easy to see and I thought I’d share a series of photos to show some of this stuff!
The behaviour here is pretty clear - a youngster sees something unfamiliar (me in an SUV!) and hangs back under the protection of mum, waiting for confirmation that all is ok. The size difference and vulnerability of the calf invoked by the image is really special.
Once the calf was comfortable with the situation, it tried to figure out how to get water from the tank. Mum is reaching over the top and using her trunk to suck water out, before transferring it to her mouth. The youngster has probably failed to comprehend that the tank is open at the top and contains water that can only be accessed by reaching over the wall.
Instead, it tried to drink directly from the wall, in the same fashion that it would consume milk from the mother! Obviously it did not prove a successful strategy and the confused little one still has much to learn.
I love this photo. This calf is slightly older than the first one but part of the same herd. While others were drinking she pulled this succulent branch from a tree and ran across to an older sibling waving it around in celebration! Once she had the attention of the big sibling, she swallowed it down in one and scooted back over to the same tree to enjoy more of the same.
The emotional response to a success was so very clear, and the desire to share it with a friend mirrored all manner of human interactions. A really wonderful sighting.
Once the thirst of all the elephants was quenched via the tank and nearby water trough, the herd quickly moved on again. Some of the juniors continued playing around but quickly realised the situation and ran after their mothers. This tiny one was very keen to catch up and did the often seen reaching for the tail of mum as it tried to keep up.
It’s always such a charming sighting and again invokes great familiarity for us humans in seeing children desire the presence and protection afforded by their parents.
I’ll be back in a few days with a selection of my best sightings from week 2 in Kruger but having had such a wonderful experience with Shingwedzi’s elephants I really wanted to share these now. Would love to know what people think in the comments below too!
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