acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

the good that elephants do

Given that we have reduced elephant habitat to tracts of land that cannot be used for agriculture - either arable or livestock; generally speaking of course. Most of the game reserves where elephants are allowed to live today are in semi desert terrain and often on international borders;  Given the choice, elephants prefer to eat grass, but in these areas, grass is often a very seasonal commodity, so for the rest of the year they make do with the rough bark of hardwood trees.  This often makes them unpopular with people who love trees - but elephants need to eat something after all.

And woebetide the elephant if he happens to stray out of his designated area in search of something more palatable to eat, or cleaner fresher water.  He instantly becomes labelled a 'rogue' elephant; or a 'rampaging' elephant - none of which he truly understands, but makes his reception very hostile and is usually life threatening.His life could depend on semantics in this way.

However, from a non scientific standpoint and in defense of elephants, what some see as destruction, is often a very vital contribution to the health of their environment.  First of all they have a very vast digestion, and their droppings are muffin shaped balls of instant manure.  The seeds they eat receive the required heat treatment in their journey through the elephants digestive system, to enable them to germinate successfully on return to the ground.

Elephants pull down branches of leaves from tall trees, in order to browse the furthest leaves.  This enables smaller browse dependent species to access food sources even during the driest months.

Young elephants strip the bark from trees, often ring barking them, during seasons when the sap is rising. This could be seen as a bad thing, as the tree usually dies.  But it creates clearings in a forest, and prevents the forest from becoming too dense. it also creates habitats for birds and insects, and small tree dwelling animals. Not to mention firewood for human campfires.

Big bull elephants push down trees. Sometimes this is interpreted as a show of strength, or a feeding requirement; but it also has the benefits of making fresh leaves available to smaller browse dependent animals; it creates habitat for ground birds and small predators, and often assists with preventing soil erosion.  Have you noticed how often the tree happens to fall across a bush road?

Elephants make wide clear paths that meander through their range, linking waterholes. If you are lost and thirsty, follow an elephant path to water - but keep your eyes and ears open!

A herd of elephants make less noise travelling through a forest, than one or two people.

At a river crossing, we once saw fish using the underwater elephant tracks as nesting sites. Each round indentation had a resident parent fish guarding their eggs.

I am sure there are a million more ways that elephants contribute to environmental health within their range states, but these are the first few that spring to mind. I also know it is extremely good for our heart and soul to spend time with elephants when they are relaxed and feeding or travelling on long ancient paths.   

Of all footprints
That of the elephant is supreme.
Of all mindfulness meditations
That on death is supreme.
         — The Buddha

Sunday, April 22, 2012

out of the blue

After my brief preoccupation with the colour red, and all things bright and beautiful, I became immersed in the colour blue.  A deep dark blue. I also hurt my back on a stubborn horse. This morning I woke up and decided there was quite enough of that, and today my inner child was needing attention. It was a beautiful clear sunny winters day.  We drove into the reserve. The impala rams have been behaving like idiots for the past few days. Furiously chasing each other around the place - making that sound like tearing up cardboard, and that weird grunting rutting bark. They have been clashing heads and acting like they own the place - all in an effort to impress the females and gather the biggest harem of all.  The females largely carry on grazing and moving from sun to shade and back again - occasionally taking off with a start if one of the clashes gets too close.  They are so vulnerable to super predators when they are like this as they are completely distracted with their own importance, and the task at hand. Plus they are making these weird noises that carry for miles.  Ironically the grunting rutting noise even sounds remotely like a leopard.

So there was an air of 'I told you so' when we came across a strong drag mark crossing the sand track this morning. It was pointed out to me how we could see the marks in the sand where the impala horns had bounced along, although the weight of the body had swept away the leopard tracks in all but a very few places.  We climbed down from the vehicle to follow the drag mark on foot, into the mopane forest.  Here and there we lost the track as it went through a gully, or grassy area, but quickly picked it up again on the other side. This leopard was a mighty strong animal. It dragged the heavy prey item between the trees, and into the long grass at the base of the koppies, without even stopping to eat.  There was no trace of grassy stomach contents or blood, only the smooth drag mark, and the marks made by the horns alongside. We went deeper into the forest, ducking under thorn branches, and stepping over rocks and logs.  Here in a flattened grassy glade we found the tail of the impala.  Around the corner, hidden away in a patch of long grass, the carcass of the lost ram.

The leopard had not had much time for feeding, so we guessed we were being watched - although it was impossible to see from where.  One little agitated bird call might have been a clue. Otherwise the blue sky and bright sunlight masked all secrets.  We retraced our steps, and went home to fetch the camera trap. Returning quickly we tied the impala ram to the nearest tree, so that the leopard would not drag it away. And we set up our antiquated camera trap overlooking the scene.  With luck, when the leopard returns, he will trigger the infra red sensor and we will be able to record his presence in digital images.

Leopards are masters of camouflage, and it is said you only see them when they decide to show themselves. You can hardly ever take them by surprise. Perhaps he was watching us from the long grass.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Seeing Red

carmine bee eater

I saw red yesterday. The colour red.  A deep luscious red with a hint of blue to give it depth. Not as dark as blood, nor as orange as a postbox, it was the kind of red you want to have around - to share the landscape with it. It made me thankful that i could see that red. 

Appreciating the ability to see that red, made me thankful for blue, ocean blue, cornflower blue, warm blue and cold blue. Then the floodgates opened and i thought of all the beauty in the world. I wondered how much time i had left to see it and didn't want to miss a jot. Sorry if that sounds morbid but the edges are already getting a bit blurred.

This world of ours is full of crazy extravagant beauty that defies the human imagination. But visuals are for beginners i guess. Beyond that lie smells, touches, sounds and extra sensory sensations.

Apart from that deeply philosophical moment in the parking lot yesterday, I caught three red toads in the house last night. Not the luscious red kind, more a burnt umber colour, but they squeaked indignantly as i delivered them to the great outdoors.

The full moon rose golden red through the trees last night.  A clear round orb unsoftened by summer haze.  We are heading into winter, as we celebrate Easter and the season of rebirth.