Zimbabwe Trip: Part 2
Posted on Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Mana Pools Elephants
If a magnificently beautiful area and wild dogs are not enough of an attraction to Mana Pools, the possibility of walking and spending time with fairly habituated wild elephants must surely make you want to visit this special area one day.
From our previous visits we have gotten to know and spend time with a number of individual elephants. Mrs Stumpy Tail and her small family gave us many special encounters as they walked through our camp (An Elephant Love Story), but unfortunately we did not find her this year. I don’t think anything happened to them and I am rather hoping that this time round they were just making use of another area.
Another elephant we know well is Boswell, the very calm bull that is not only famous for his demeanour but also his large size and ability to stand on his two back legs in order to browse higher into the trees than any other elephant. Due to his size he is one of the dominant bulls in Mana Pools, but this is also a curse and worryingly makes him vulnerable not only to poachers but hunters too. Shortly before we arrived in Mana Pools, Boswell had spent some time in the hunting area of the Zambezi Valley but thankfully had made his way safely back across to the National Park area.
Elephants are highly intelligent sentient and social beings and a chance to spend time with them on foot in close but safe proximity is truly special.
Much respect must always be afforded to elephants but particularly to female elephants that have young or even teenage calves. For this reason we choose to spend more time with Boswell and his askaris (other bull elephants that accompany him) rather than tempting fate with the females!
Boswell also pulls off an amazing feeding trick and the resultant social behaviour around him is fascinating and hard to pass up experiencing.
The Boswell Circus
If you have read my previous blogs on our Mana Pools visit you will have heard me describe the most interesting way in which Boswell stands on his back legs.
As the dry season reaches its peak in Mana Pools tree foliage is browsed higher and higher making competition for food steep. Boswell has learnt to obtain maximum height by standing on his back legs and reaching high up with his trunk. There is also a bull elephant named “The Hyrax” who climbs the front of a tree trunk in order to gain the added height advantage. We’ve never been able to see him do this but we have seen him climbing an anthill which was equally bizarre!
Although we spent more time with Boswell on this trip than previously, we didn’t see him do his “trick” quite as much. But the time spent with him allowed us to observe very interesting social behaviour. It was also extremely peaceful and tranquil just sitting watching him under the beautiful canopy of trees or down on the floodplain.
Because Boswell is able to reach leaves and branches that other elephants are not able to he has an entourage that follows him around. These hangers-on are hoping to prosper from his hauls and as we found out, some are welcome and others not. When Boswell brings down a particularly big branch, a loud crack echoing through the bush will be the calling card for other elephants to come, and sometimes they come running!
Very subtle body language takes place on a constant basis. Sometimes you have to really be looking for it to be aware that it’s even happening. This can vary from a slight body posture to the left or right; a tiny flick of a trunk or a low grumble. Other times it’s not as subtle and can be as obvious as Boswell pushing an unwanted guest with his back leg. The groupies are very patient and try very hard to steal the spoils. This often leads to comical scenes of a large elephant standing stock still with just the tiniest part of its trunk inching towards a reachable branch on the ground. If it’s successful it will normally grab the branch and run off from the others so that it can eat in peace and without politics.
Another interesting observation is that Boswell certainly seemed to favour some elephants over others. We would often see him with a much smaller bull with short tusks that could come in and take any branch it wanted at will. Boswell was also often accompanied by a beautiful bull with curved tusks and the two would browse peacefully together. The Hyrax on the other hand always seemed to be an outcast and would have to stand on its own, almost as if he was placed in the corner for bad behaviour.
On another occasion Boswell had brought down a large fig tree trunk and the resultant noise had bull elephants coming in from everywhere. This time no one was allowed to share until a mother and calf came storming in. Boswell must have been an admirer as she and her calf were allowed to pick off leaves at will. Some very interesting social interactions indeed!