Dung beetles have right of way

28 November 2012- Tsitsikamma National Park

We have had an incredible few days! My vocabulary does not extend to describing it all and we have both decided we need new words besides amazing, incredible etc.

We had a big day of driving from the Lesotho border (easy easy crossing, no worries) to Addo Elephant National Park. We were not sure what time the park gates closed so we decided to stay a few km’s outside the park at a place we heard had camping as well as a guest house and hostel rooms – The Aardvark. It was perfect! Certainly the best facilities we have come across and we had the whole camping area to ourselves again. The next morning we headed off into the national park.  The bush at Addo is very thick, short scrubby trees and bushes, called succulent thicket, and of course its a national park so you never know if and when you will see any animals (which is one of the best things!). But here when you do see animals it’s often very close up as there are limited areas of open grassland.

Within the first few kms of entering the park we came upon a water hole with a family of elephants spread out around it and the surrounds.  There were about 25 adults and several young, we sat and watched them for ages. I felt quite overwhelmed and emotional really. We have seen two elephants when we were up north, each was on its own. Seeing elephants interact is something else and truly beautiful. They, like no other animal we have watched, are a family. They do not just happen to be together, they are together. They laugh, play, argue and help each other and its truly a privilege to watch as well as great fun! Several of them came right down to the edge of the water hole to drink, including a young one (sooooo cute and small enough to easily walk under the belly of the adults) the young one stumbled a bit into the water, suddenly there were several trunks there wrapped around to help the little one out. We watched them for ages until most of them stated to lumber off into the bush. Surprisingly for their size they can disappear into the bush rather quickly.

A few minutes later we came down a small hill overlooking an open area surrounding a large water hole, it took our eyes a few minutes to adjust, and it was Olly’s who did first and said “Look at those elephants!”  Before us, across the open grassy area and around the water hole were dozens and dozens of elephants, we could not have counted them but prob at least 75 or so. In the middle of the ones at the waterhole was a lone warthog trying to find a place for a drink. I really like warthogs, I actually laugh out loud when we see them, trotting along, mullet blowing in the breeze tail pointing straight up, snuffling about eating here and there.Such unlikely looking animals! he he he.  Watching all the elephants was so enthralling and after watching them for an hour or so we moved on and made our way to the southern section of the park to see if we could spot some lions that had been seen down there earlier in the day.  As lions are not known for wasting energy and often laze around during the day we thought might just be in with a chance although with such thick bush we figured we would have to be pretty lucky anyway we were happy to see what we see, lion or not.  After crawling along enjoying ourselves for a while we came up to a small open area with a dried out water hole, we both thought it would be a good spot to have a proper look so we slowed way down, we both spotted a large brownish lump and I scanned with the binoculars and saw it was definitely a big animal with beige fur, it took ages for my mind to piece together l-i-o-n!

His head was tucked away so I still wasn’t sure because the part of him we could see- his rump and back area was so massive I was questioning if it could be a big buck or something. Suddenly we saw movement and up popped a massive head with a large majestic fluffy mane with a regal “im the boss’ face!  He had a big scratch, a yawn, shook his large head with his big flowing mane and looked over our way. Wow!!! Stunning- we were at a loss for words! Regal, magnificent…. I could not believe the size of the animal, he was twice the size I thought a lion was! There was another one but he was sound asleep behind a bush so we never got a good look at him- although at one stage he did roll on his back snuggle in and fall back asleep legs akimbo in the air, twitching ever so often, as he dreamed of the chase! The warnings of not getting out of your car are not necessarily if you see that!  His paw would have been as big as my head.  We watched him stand up, stretch, shake a few more times, groom himself for a minute then flop back to sleep in the sun, both of them so camouflaged you could have gotten very close to them without ever seeing them, we wondered how many people must have driven past and not seen them. Spotting the animals is a huge part luck, mixed in with patience and not being in a hurry, be willing to stop, watch, listen and wait.

Later in the day we stopped at a picnic spot (fenced off so you can get out of the car thankfully) and gulped down some lunch, its hard to have a leisurely lunch when you know you might be watching elephant!  After lunch we came up to a couple of cars stopped in front of us with elephant right beside them! The bush is thick and when make their way out to the road you don’t always see them until they are right there, you have to stop! They seemed to move on across the road munching away so we crawled up a bit further and some of the cars moved away, then the rest of the group appeared right next to us, all of them munching away. They got closer and closer, as Olly was taking some photos he had to quickly roll up the window as they got close enough to reach in! A baby one came so close Olly could have stuck his hand out the window and touched it! All of the sudden we had wall to wall elephant right around us, I got a bit freaked out as I heard they can be a little aggressive if they have young and I was thinking how do we know they don’t think we are surrounding them and find us a threat. Olly was ok because he has seen agitated elephant before so he could tell these guys were fine, although he has certainly never seen them this close! One of the adults stopped and looked right at us and watched us for a minute and then wandered on for some more grub, one of them brushed the back of landy as they went and we shook a bit – thankfully he was only a small one!

We went back to our camp about 5, wolfed down a beer and some dinner and then out again for a guided night drive, you are not permitted to go out in your own vehicle at night. We left at dusk and came upon a small family of elephant who seemed to glow in the fading light. We saw some of the animals we had seen during the day- zebra, kudu and elephant.  It was great to see them in the moonlight and also see what they get up to at night. We got to see a porcupine, I loved watching him scurry along and a very beautiful African cat called a caracal. We also got to watch a jackal hunting a hare who dashed this way and that, in and out of the spotlight.

Yesterday morning we were up and out again, we figured we’d just go out and see how the day went, so we headed off in the morning back to the big water hole, sure enough the large group was there- trumpeting, grumbling, scuffling around, splashing water and engaging with each other the whole time. We decided to exit the park in the far south and see if we stayed nearby or carried on towards the Garden Route and Cape Town direction. You never know in a national park how long it will take, you might only have 20 km or so to drive but if you run into ellies like we did it could take all day!

As we went around a small bend we were greeted with a large male elephant, ears out, head bobbing and running (well as much as they can run) so we were a bit startled and pulled over to move out of its way (obviously!) turns out he was not at all interested in us he was on a mission to a nearby water hole to join a few others in a big drink, to spray himself down and some mud wrestling. Magic to watch!!!

Up the road a bit and we came up four younger males on their own. We stopped to watch and within a few minutes one of them was about one or two metres from my window. The next hour was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. I say experienced and not watched because it much more than watching, we could hear him, smell him (a bit too much when he farted) and your heart speeds up a bit as he gets closer, glances over at us and swings his trunk back down to grab some more grass.  To watch him so close munching away, his wrinkly, rough skin, wrinkly knees, big ears, his big brown eyes, that truck swooshing back and forth and all the time and constant munch munch munch. His trunk is amazing! It swoops down to the ground grasps onto a truck full of grass rips it out, twirls it around a bit and brings it up to a big hairy bottom lip, repeating this over and over. Completely hypnotizing. Watching these amazing animals up close was amazing, a complete mix of adrenaline, a sense of complete awe, being humbled next to these massive creatures and hugely touching, heartwarming and moving.  It is overpowering and unusual to have all these feelings swimming around together at the same time.  What a joy.  Writing it now, a day later I still feel tingly and have a smile on my face.

After our final elephant mates moved on we moved on too, out of Addo, and decided to make a run for it as it was early afternoon.  So here we are camping right next to the sea, we had a nice dinner last night and fell asleep to the sound of the boom and crash of waves, its good to be by sea again. Today we are having a potter day. Since we left Durban we have been doing stuff every day and falling into bed tired at night so we have called a ‘weekend’ to read, post this and another one we wrote in Lesotho, and internet willing, speak to family. I was so frustrated the other night when we left Lesotho I was sure we would have internet and we did, of sorts, I rang dad on skype and only heard every fourth word or so.

Its a lovely spot here, our friends Peter and Leslie Anne (who we met in Aus on the trip) told us about it, we’ll go out for a walk later today and enjoy a few days here before carrying  toward Cape Town.


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little ones following mum to water hole

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learning to use that trunk to drink!

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cooling down

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waking up

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5 thoughts on “Dung beetles have right of way

  1. So glad that you had the patience to just sit and wait … and be rewarded with these unbelievably close encounters. As you rightly say, luck plays a huge part in game viewing … and luck has certainly been on your side. Wonderful photos … what a privilege to get to share time with all these fascinating creatures.

  2. Luuurve the Elephant pics guys. They are my favourite of the BiG 5. Hope you are both well and are having an amazing time.
    Stay safe.

  3. these are great shots, all these different animals just existing and trying to stay alive. i love the rear shot of the mom and baby the lions look deceptally docile!!

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