Addo Elephant National Park (and everything you’d want to know about some of the wildlife)!

Well, when you love animals and wildlife as much as I do, I don’t think it’s possible to ever get bored of safaris and game drives which is quite a good thing as I’ve done quite a few now.  Today we headed to Addo Elephant National Park and took it upon ourselves to drive through the park and scout for the wildlife rather than participate in a guided game drive.  This meant we had to actively search and find the animals… being as none of us have had much experience, we did quite well and animal-wise, we actually saw most of what the park had to offer.  The park is situated on more than 100,000 hectares of land and was initially established to conserve the elephant in the Addo area and had all of seven elephants in the park to begin with.  They have had great success as currently there are just about five hundred elephants in the park.  Also side note of the day: the big five of Africa includes the elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo, and rhino.  They are considered the big five because they are the most dangerous animals when hunting by foot.  Buffalo is the most dangerous of the big five by far and they kill more humans each year than the rest of the big five combined.  Besides the buffalo, the rest of the big five give warning signs before they attack but the buffalo simply attacks thus making them so dangerous.

Being as we were in Addo Elephant National Park, I think it’s only appropriate to begin with the elephant… of which we saw quite a few!  Elephant in the Khosian language means the unstoppable one… quite accurate if you ask me.  It is easy to spot a male elephant as they often live in solitude while females live within a herd.  Although the herd does consist of a dominant male, in elephant world it is matriarchal based and the females run the show!  As I have mentioned before, elephants live to about the age of 70 and actually die of starvation.  If an elephant tusk (or rhino tusk for that matter) breaks, a new tusk will grow and replace the broken one.  Just as humans are left or right handed, elephants are left or right tusked as they tend to favor one over the other for breaking down trees and such making the more dominant tusk a bit shorter.  Elephants are vegetarians and practically their only living threat is humans.  Elephants are considered the highway constructors within the forest as they make most of the paths that are used by the animals as they trample everything in their way resulting in nice paths for the other animals.  Elephants are very emotional creatures as they will actually mourn a fellow death within the herd.  When an elephant dies, they will cover its body with branches and return to the gravesite to mourn the death until the next elephant within the herd dies.  The gestation period for an elephant is 22 months but the birth only lasts a few seconds.  It takes a baby elephant about a year to learn how to properly control its trunk as there are more than 100,000 nerve muscles in the trunk alone.  Elephants sleep standing up and can only lie down for a short time as their lungs are attached to their ribcage.  Thus, it is hard for elephants to breathe when lying down and they can easily suffocate.  One elephant that we encountered while on the game drive was a bit grumpy and wanted nothing to do with people—as we marveled from the car, he approached the car in front of us to the point of almost touching it and started shaking its head, making it clear that he didn’t want any of us there and to get away.  The car reversed just a bit and the elephant quickly disappeared into the thick bush… I was shocked by how quickly such a big animal could suddenly vanish.

We saw kudu galore while on the drive.  Kudu have white lines that run up their bodies to help them camouflage and blend in as the lines break the full figure of the animal.  They live to be just about 7 or 8 years of age and each turn of their horn represent about two-and-a-half years.  They are similar to elephants in that the females live in a herd with one dominant male while the males that don’t make the cut as being the dominant one form bachelor herds.  In these bachelor herds, the males fight to stay active and to stay in shape with the goal of becoming the dominant one.  Then they challenge the dominant one for the title and if stronger, a switch of dominance occurs… occurring about each year.  This is nature’s way to keep the dominant kudu young and it also helps avoid inbreeding.  We saw a carcass of a kudu that was actually killed yesterday right on the side of the road… it was certainly fresh as still red in color from the blood.  All that basically remained were the bones… even the eyes were gone.

We got lucky and saw a huge pack of zebras… about forty of them very, very close to the road… actually a few of them crossed the road—now this is more appropriately referred to as zebra crossings.  They are clever animals and actually are able to protect themselves quite well against lions as they form tightly together to give the illusion that they are one big animal.  Lions can only see black and white and aren’t able to distinguish that they are separate animals so from a lion’s perspective—they are all one big animal and they will often leave them alone in fear of their own safety.  We took a few hours to drive through the park and we saw lots of other animals along the way… some of which included warthogs, red harte beast, leopard tortoises, jackals, and ostriches.  Ostriches have terrible digestive systems so they actually eat rocks along with their food and the rocks help break up the food in their stomach so they can absorb the nutrients… crazy huh!

After our game drive and certainly the highlight of the day, we headed to Jeffrey’s Bay which is situated on the Sunshine Coast, passing back through Port Elizabeth on the way.  Addo was our furthest point of the trip so we are technically on our way back to Cape Town… but there is still plenty to see and do along the way!  Nowadays, Jeffrey’s Bay is definitely a surfing town and one of the top surfing spots in the world.  We stopped and shopped a bit at the outlet stores (Billabong, Roxy, Quiksilver, etc.) before heading to the backpackers for the night.  We were lucky and they gave us the beach house for the night—literally just feet away from the ocean.  We have a fantastic view of the ocean and I was able to take a walk along the beach before enjoying the sunset.  Although it was a bit cold, I was able to spend some time outside tonight and loved the bright stars along with the sound of the waves crashing just feet away (quite a foreign sound being from Nebraska).

I’m off to star gaze just a bit more before calling it a night!

~Susan

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