We set off from South Africa’s Kapama’s tented Buffalo Camp on a beautiful summers morning and were pleasantly surprised to find fresh rhino and elephant tracks. I knew about a small mud pan that was recently filled up with rain nearby so went to investigate.
It paid off and we were spoilt with a fantastic scene.
As we approached we found four white rhinos laying in the mud, one dominant male and his 3 cows. Slowly they started stirring, awakening from their sloshy slumber. One by one they each moved about clumsily through the thick mud. They are too large to roll over on their back so they need to get up and flop down on the other side to cover as much of their large surface skin area in mud as possible. This helps as a natural sunblock as well as suffocating any ticks hiding under the skin flaps of the inner legs.
Once the crash of rhino had moved on in search of grass we went back to the elephant tracks.
Tracking elephants with guests has always been a favorite of mine. It didn’t take too long before we were inhaling the distinct herby and sour bushveld scent of fresh elephant dung.
It seemed the elephants had left a small obstacle course behind them in the middle of the road, for us to manoeuvre through, after their feeding. Twice I had to stop and remove a large branch from our path to continue tracking them.
Since they left such obvious signs (once you knew what to look for), I kept the anticipation going, waiting rather for a guest to spot the signs (or clues), interpreted it, and continue in the suggested direction. On finding the herd, each guest quietly celebrated, excited and moved by their own small safari victory, as if having solved a beautiful puzzle.
As impressive as it already is to see the enormity of this elegant gentle giant, an entire herd of at least 25 individual elephants moving intently in a set direction is breath-taking. They were headed back south from where we came, a bee-line to where we had experienced the wallowing rhinos. The entrance to the pan and road becomes smaller and denser. We watched in awe as the herd moved in perfect single file towards the water. As the foliage opened the youngsters began to almost skip with excitement.
By the time the herd of elephants reached the pan and started noisily slurping up mud with their ever so useful trunks and spraying it all over their bodies, the guests were beside themselves. Cameras were clicking away and soft “aww’s” followed by bouts of laughter. Even the adult elephants were enjoying themselves, laying down and rocking their hips from side to side.
The youngest of the herd, about 3,5 months old, was excited to get in on the fun. Not having too much control of the thousands of muscles in the trunk she just went head first into the mud and tried not to get stuck in the deeper pools.
The largest part of the herd moving off, signaled the approach of a large bull and his younger companion in this small bachelor herd. Both found a freshly dug up wallow and lay down in the cool sludge. Moving more wildly than the previous lot it didn’t take long for them to be completely covered in mud and ready for anything this hot day might bring.
All-in-all it was a terrific adventure for my guests that morning. Firstly finding the rhinos early on the game drive, then picking up on the elephant tracks, and solving the bushveld puzzle, and finally to be presented with the ultimate prize – a herd of Elephants at their day out at the Spa.
Story and elephant photos by: Ranger Monika Malewski – Buffalo Camp