I recently spent some special time with the Camp Jabulani elephants on a Sunday afternoon, and wanted to share my experience with you.
I was on my way to meet with my mother, Lente, when on impulse I decided to alter my route to find the elephants who I knew were browsing on the reserve. The impulse was strong, as I was already 30 minutes late for my meeting, and the detour took me significantly off-course.
I parked the car close to the waterhole and started walking in the direction I thought they might be. I was right. Seemingly out of nowhere came Jabulani to greet me. He sniffed me up and down, and followed me closely as I walked to find the rest of the herd.
Lundi, who was munching on a clump of grass, also greeted me before continuing with the more important task at hand … eating. A shrub on the other side of the path caught her attention. She stripped the branches of all their leaves, before putting them in her mouth. While chewing, she wasted no time in retrieving yet another clump of grass from the ground, and carefully shaking the soil off its roots. A multi-tasker of note.
At this point, Jabulani was also browsing on branches of leaves as he moved past me towards the waterhole. He stopped at my vehicle, and pushed his trunk through the half open window to explore the interior, with its combined scents of my dog, children and I.
In no time, Fishan and Sebakwe followed suit. I always try to avoid spending more time with one elephant than another, and make a concerted effort to divide my attention equally among them all. I’ve come to realise that the elephants are just like humans, and can get jealous quite easily. I’ve noticed that the bulls are even worse in this regard, and it is at times like this that Sebakwe pushes Jabulani (in an extremely civilised manner, mind you) from behind. His forehead sits on Jabulani’s behind, with tusks flanking Jabu’s derriere.
Jabulani finaly stopped at the waterhole and drank some water. He used his trunk to suck in litres of water, which he then blew into his mouth.
Sebakwe also stood next to Jabulani and drank sips of water before moving into the water. Slowly at first, almost teasing the waterhole with his entrance, ears spread. A sudden huge splash, and he disappeared under the water for three or more minutes .
Dr. Johan Marais once explained to me that elephants are one of the land mammals closest to the whale – and I can see why. He continued to explain that there was in fact genetic evidence linking the two species. The unusual lung structure and the absence of a pleural cavity being one similarity. The pleural cavity is the area between the lungs and the thorax/ pleaura which enables the lungs of mammals to expand and contract in size while breathing. The elephants lack such a pleaural cavity, and their lungs are basically fixed to their chest and diaphragm. As a result, elephants cannot lie on their chest, but only on their side to breath. Another similarity between the two species is that whales breathe through a “snorkel”. Similarly, elephants’ trunks have evolved into a snorkel-like appendage, and the pachderms are able to breath with their heads under water for prolonged periods of time.
Another intriguing similarity between elephants and whales is that some of their vocalisations are infrasonic (humans are unable to hear them due to the very low frequency). They communicate via infrasound like whales and dolphins.
Lastly, the testes of the elephant bull are intra-abdominal, as with the whale. The testes are more threatened by cold stress than hot, and in a cold water environment it makes sense to keep the testes warm at all times. The testes are therefore intra-abdominal, unlike other mammals and humans whose testes are external, and contained in the scrotum.
Sebakwe returned to the water’s surface and tried to lure Jabulani closer. Perhaps he was trying to show off his strength as he is about a decade older than Jabulani, but Jabu just didn’t seem interested. Sebakwe then found a branch in the water, spun it around with his trunk, and disappeared under the water again.
After a while I noticed a ‘snorkel’ above the water’s edge, and then Sebakwe’s head popped up. He still held onto his branch, before throwing it towards Jabulani as if to invite him for a game. Jabulani was still unamused, and when Sebakwe got out of the water to stand next to Jabulani, the younger elephant simply turned around – great behind to Sebakwe’s face. “What do you not understand Sebakwe? I do not want to play today”.
It may not have been the spectacular ‘Fountains of Bellagio’ in Las Vegas. But the playful behavior of the two bull elephants (with the giraffes in the backdrop) was mesmerising nonetheless.
Nothing delights me more than spending time with our elephant herd. I never tire of it, and take away something special in my heart each and every time.
MD, Camp Jabulani