Our head guide at Wild Wings Safaris, Simon Vegter, managed to capture some cute baby elephant action at the waterhole at Kruger National Park recently. The babies came down to drink when suddenly, a big hippo popped up, blowing bubbles as he surfaced, giving the little ones a big scare!
They ran trumpeting away from the water and were quickly followed and surrounded by their mothers and aunties, the largest of which came to see what had frightened them so. And you can be rest assured that she’d be more than prepared to take on a hippo or two if she’d perceived a real threat.
Recently, there have been separate recorded incidents of elephants tossing massive buffalo into the air several times and fatally wounding them with their tusks when these unfortunate creatures had ventured too close to the family’s baby elephants for their own comfort.
It’s quite amazing and endearing to see the highly-developed levels of affection and protection displayed by these pachyderms that can be the most gentle of giants with their young and then monstrous mammoths to any that should dare threaten their family.
In this photo you can clearly see how the elephants form a living ‘laager’ or ring of protection for the young ones of the herd – all facing outwards, ready to take on any foe or danger.
Elephants are highly sociable and form small family groups usually consisting of an older matriarch and a few younger females with their young. Bulls are more solitary, but visit the herd from time to time to check for females in oestrus.
It has long been accepted by wildlife researchers that the patriarch members of many species are established by dominance, such as lions and dogs, for example. However, this is not the case with elephants. The alpha-female chosen to lead the herd is elected not because she is the strongest or most aggressive, but because she has earned their respect and shown true leadership skills: wisdom, social intelligence, the ability to solve problems, openness, decisiveness, patience, compassion and confidence.
Humans have a close affinity with elephants and rightly so. We have a similar life span and reach adulthood at the same time, around age 20. Elephants show many ‘human’ characteristics. They have a tight-knit family bond and actively grieve over the death of a loved one. They’ve been known to display envy, jealousy, temper tantrums and be highly competitive, as well as being happy, silly and affectionate.
There are many ways they’ve shown themselves to be more sophisticated than humans. They can communicate in voices we can’t even hear, with hearing so acute they can hear something miles away. Their memory is truly legendary and they have a sense of compassion that far surpasses ours, even extending to other species in distress.
We need to do whatever we can to protect and learn from these incredible, fascinating creatures.