November 15 – Morning Game Drive – Selinda
We started the morning by reacquainting ourselves with “the Huntress”, ie., Leopard #3, and followed her as she casually made her way along her dawn patrol route. She was a great poser – no action per se, but she really worked the camera.
Even while on Safari, golf is not far from Evan’s thoughts – note the insignia on his broad rimmed hat! We stopped at the Hippo pool for a little tea/coffee break – catching Evan in the rare moment when he doesn’t have a camera in his hand.
It was only moments later when he decided to position himself closer to the water and get cozy with some of his buddies prior to their delicate “synchronized swimming” routine. In retrospect, one of the more civilized encounters we had with these big guys.
After the Hippo Pool, we continued on our trek, coming across a number of zebra. Their unique markings are amazing and the patterns , especially when standing next to each other really made my eyes work overtime to grasp their complexity. The Zebra and its stripes remind me of a Dr. Seuss quote, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You”.
Now to the take-away of the morning for me. Isaac took us through a beautiful Mopane grove and gave us an elephant ecology lesson. The leaves of the Mopane trees are shaped like butterfly wings and are a big source of nutrition for the elephants. The adult female elephants are very conscientious arborists – they eat from the top of the Mopane tree to ensure that the trees don’t grow too high so as to become out of reach for the baby elephants and other grazers that seek its nourishment. By eating the Mopane from the top, the adult female elephants force the tree to sprout and grow more branches and fresh leaves thicker and lower to the ground. This was an amazing thing to witness – this Mopane grove looked like a humanly cultivated orchard or vineyard – amazing that the horticulturalists were elephants! Keeping to my Dr. Seuss thread, the female elephants actions and intentions remind me of the Lorax quote – “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”.
As much as the females impressed me with their horticultural prowess , the males are a whole other story… while the females make a point of protecting and nurturing the trees, the males are all about knocking them down. I guess we can’t blame them too much – the males are pushed out of their herd when they are only about 12 years old (which is pretty young in elephant years). It’s kind of like kicking your teenage boy out of the house before he’s gone through puberty and before he’s learned more than the most basic of manners. In addition to not learning proper tree-trimming techniques from their mothers, these young males soon find themselves needing to prove themselves around the other sub-adult males they are now forced to hang with. Proving oneself usually involves determining who has the greatest brute strength and what better way to prove brute strength than your ability to knock down trees – the bigger the better. Unfortunately this bad behavior has the tendency to grow exponentially – one male knocks down a tree to prove himself, only to have another male knock down a larger tree to prove himself – you can see how this escalates. And then, factor in the testosterone surge when these big guys go into musth – you thought human females had hormonal issues… These big guys can become downright aggressive and quite destructive during musth – and besides, everybody is laughing at you because it looks like you have five legs. (I regret that I did not get a picture of this beautiful Mopane forest because what we experienced in Savute was the antithesis of this situation – more about that later).