One of my absolute favourite things is to observe and learn from elephants. I always feel a sense of renewed energy after having spent some quiet time in their company.
It is common knowledge that elephants will use a rock or a tree branch (or even a car, as seen not long ago in Pilansberg) to scratch an itch which they cannot reach on their bodies. Some elephants also have favourite ‘scratching poles’, such as the bark on a tree – rubbed smoothed after years of habitual use.
While watching the Camp Jabulani herd a few days ago, all busying themselves with either playing in the mud, eating or drinking water, my attention was drawn to Lundi who was profusely scratching her foot. This wasn’t a normal ‘scratch’ as she seemed to be cleaning her foot from what I gathered to be devil’s thorns.
She started with her right front foot, and scratched it on a knee-height broken tree branch which was quite sharp on its edge.
Mambo came to his mom for a quick ‘milk pit stop’ (yes, this little greedy guts is still feeding from his mom – more for comfort than substance though). With the patience only a mother possesses, Lundi took a break from her intent scratching to attend to her little one. Once Mambo had had his fill, she continued with her intent scratching of the same foot.
Just like a child imitating a parent, Mambo also started scratching his foot on the same tree branch that his mother was using. They both stood next to each other and scratched.
Lundi then switched feet and started to scratch the left front foot. Clearly the right foot was still feeling itchy, as she started to scratch it again. This was weird as she seemed to now rotate the foot around the tree branch as if the aggravating itch was from something that must have been stuck on the side of her foot.
And low and behold… Mambo also continued to do as his mother was doing – using another branch close by. He kept swopping between his left and right feet, which left me wondering if he was really itchy or just copying what his mom was doing. Perhaps this was his way of spending a little quality time with his mother.
Elephants are extremely crafty in sourcing tools like the ‘scratch poles’, and will also use tree branches to de-tick themselves. Ticks usually collect in areas where the skin is thinner (for instance, around the anus and scrotum, and in creases/ folds).
Lundi moved on and I thought she was done, but alas not … she moved to a lower rock and started to scratch again. First right front foot… then left foot…. then the hind feet’s turn. Left, right, left …. and so on she went…