Bullish behaviour

Pamushana · September 2018
By Alex Kadziyanike
Field Guide

After being kicked out of the breeding herds between the ages of 12 to 15 by the leading female, the matriarch, bull elephants tend to wander around by themselves and end up forming bachelor groups that can number up to 20. Their movement is determined by the availability of food and water.

At this time of the year food is scarce and most of the vegetation is very dry. Even though it’s dry elephants, in general, are not selective feeders, they feed on whatever is available, munching on dry twigs and scooping up large trunkfuls of dried grass. Not much nourishment is obtained from the dry vegetation but it fills their stomachs and keeps them going until the rain comes and foliage springs to life.

During the dry season, like now, most of the trees shed their leaves to reduce their surface area so that they don’t lose a lot of water through transpiration. Because of this process trees’ nutrientsbare stored either in the bark or roots and that’s why bull elephants end up pushing trees down to reach the nutrients.

Trees like the mountain acacias and tortilis have become victims to these bull elephants. Driving through some areas on the reserve now looks like a war zone. Trees have been ring-barked, damaged and pushed down – a total devastation of vegetation! When driving past those bull elephants pulverizing the trees, they will not move an inch to give you way. This behaviour is sometimes caused by bull elephants in musth – a high level of testosterone which makes them behave differently.

After a long day of feeding there is nothing bull elephants enjoy more than a drink and a swim. The giant pachyderms don’t have sweat glands like other mammals to cool off their bodies, they only have pores between their toes. In order to cool off they have to do it mechanically and that means active flapping of ears or direct cooling – and that’s when we see them visiting waterholes, drinking, playing in the water, swimming and spraying their bodies with mud which acts like a sunblock. Bull elephants seem to be more playful than
cows and babies. They love water and can spend hours at waterholes, rolling over, sitting, splashing water and mud-bathing. What carefree bullish behaviour!

Here’s a photo series showing them greeting, playing, spraying and departing on a hot September afternoon.

By Alex Kadziyanike
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