Elephant comes to visit

2nd August 2019
Things are warming up fast here and I’m loving it! A warm wind came in from the east late in the afternoon. Even after dark I was still dressed in shorts and not even in my sleeping bag. Bliss. The mopane woodland consisted of tall slim trees as if planted for timber. There was very little undergrowth, so visibility was great. Compared to down on the alluvial soils around the river, there’s quite a bit of grass up here in the north. A big herd of impala were dwarfed in the woodland. As I drove past something spooked them and they ran straight towards me. I scanned around with my spotlight and not far north of them were some other eyes. I left the track heading east. It was easy going, no fallen trees stumps. The elephants haven’t got hold of these trees yet. A small drainage line ran north/south. Lining the drainage line were Raisin bushes and small sickle bushes, which provided cover for the eyes I was following, now moving south along the drainage line. A gap in the bush and I saw her, a leopard hunting the impala. Not far behind her, another pair of eyes. Her youngster nearly a year old. They both stopped in the drainage line, looking south where the impala had been. After a while the mother had a change of plan. She turned back north and her little one followed. Maybe they were going to approach the impala from another side. I followed along the edge of the drainage line, seeing them now and again. It was getting rocky. Just to our east was a huge flat topped mountain where all these rocks had come from. The cats then moved east and I was snookered. I waited a while in the woodland. What little sound there might have been was muffled by the wind and the stars had disappeared with a complete cover of clouds having moved in, keeping it extra warm.
It was late in the night when I snuggled up under a Nyala berry tree. I was woken by a rumble just to my right. An elephant. I couldn’t see it but could hear it shuffling along. That sound like someone shuffling around the house in slippers. Amazingly quiet for such a huge beast. It was coming closer. I didn’t want to use my light as that might spook it or challenge it. It was moving round the front of Joanie. As it got in front of me I saw his silhouette against the now clear starry sky. He was about 10m away. Too close for me to do anything. I decided to lie back and just enjoy the time with him. He was picking up Nyala berries in his trunk and eating them. He knew I was there but kept coming closer and closer reaching with his trunk under Joanie to get to some berries. He was right next to me and could easily have reached out and touched me. Every now and then I’d see a little flash of starlight on his tusks. They weren’t big. Slowly he carried on round the tree picking up berries and soon continued on to the next tree. How very special to be able to spend just that brief moment with this huge gentle giant!
I took a detour on my way home to see how the wild dogs are doing. When I got there the puppies were all out lying snuggled together in the sun. They’re now about 3months old, in their cute phase and will probably be leaving the den soon…

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Wild Dog puppy surprise

22nd June 2019
The sun had set but it was still light. That evening light of purple and orange hues, were perfectly reflected in the water of the pan, the sunset colours broken only by the reflected shapes of 5 elephant bulls drinking. They stood peacefully slowly sucking up litres of water at a time and carefully depositing them deep into their mouths, careful not to spill any of this liquid gold. Some elephants are having to dig in the dry sandy riverbeds for water, these guys have it easy, for now. The dry season has only just started, with at least another 5 months to go before the rains. Keeping the peace and reflecting the mood around the pan, as one, the bulls moved off almost without any sound, even their huge footsteps treading silently on mother earth. In the fading light I wanted to check on the vultures from the morning. The tree skeletons stood dark and proud against the now maroon sky, but they were bare. Not a vulture to be seen. Obviously that huge carcass I had imagined was just that…
At dawn I went to check on the badger hole. A few buffalo had been through and churned up the sand around the bush, but otherwise there was no sign. Taking my chances I went into the thicket. It was fairly open inside with lots of leaf litter. There were several holes too, but all had spider webs. So they hadn’t been used recently. There was no evidence of anything. I was now seriously beginning to question my tracking skills.

It was still early when I arrived at the wild dog den. Adults lay around in the sun warming themselves. They all looked lean. Definitely hadn’t hunted this morning. It was some time later that one stirred. Got up shaking her head, that typical sound of huge flapping ears. She greeted another. They were both up, walking shoulder to shoulder with their heads low they moved past the mopane trees to the light red sandy mound. They were whimpering. There was more movement in the woodland. More dogs, their heads held low, began to approach. Digging at the entrance of the sandy mound one of the dogs was whimpering frantically and carried on digging. Then they erupted, tiny puppies! Not even 3 weeks old. The adults were all over them. All wanting to ‘eat’ the cutest little things. Their coats are still just black and white, the brown will start appearing soon. Puppies were being picked up, nuzzled, pushed around. Everyone wanting to meet and greet them. It was frantic for a few minutes. Then mom arrived and the puppies dropped into the burrow. No doubt milkies on offer. The adults resumed their places in the sun…

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