Date: 25th March 2013
Report by Guy Rogers that appeared in the PE Herald
HE AIN’T heavy, he’s my bubba. A recent incident in the Addo Elephant National Park has highlighted the extraordinary intelligence and caring nature of elephants.
Speaking to The Herald on Friday, Port Elizabeth resident Ian McFarlane described how he and his wife Debbie were visiting the park with friends. They had stopped at Hapoor Dam where a herd of elephants was congregated and, between the forest of pachyderm legs, they spotted a calf, he said.
"Suddenly the herd suddenly became very agitated, weeing and poohing and trumpeting.”
An honorary ranger on the scene diagonosed the uproar: the calf had fallen into the dam. The McFarlanes and their friends drove around to other side of the dam to get a better vantage point and got a clear view of the drama which ensued.
"The calf was battling to get out but it didn’t have a hope of doing so because of the steep slippery bank. One of the adults – we think it was the mother – was reaching down with her trunk. The other adults were bunched around her, like they were offering moral support.
"Just when it looked like she had succeeded in her efforts, the calf slipped back into the water.”
After that, you could almost read the mother’s mind, Ian said.
"She looked at the marooned calf, and decided that it was time for plan B.”
Lowering herself into the water, she waded up next to her calf – who for a scary moment disappeared completely under the water. Then, coaxing and nudging, she eventually got it up the bank and onto dry land.
It was an amazingly dramatic event and a great photographic opportunity but it had been distressing to watch the calf floundering in the water, Ian said.
"There was a great sense of relief when it was rescued. There were at least a dozen vehicles at Hapoor while it was still in the dam, and some of the people couldn’t bear to watch and drove off. A lady in a car next to us was in tears, so it had a huge impact on everyone who witnessed it.”
Ian said he and Debbie have toured extensively in Southern African Big Five parks including Namibia’s Etosha and, in South Africa, Addo, Kruger and Kgalagadi, but they had never witnessed an incident of this kind before.
Addo park senior ranger John Adendorff said the this kind of behaviour with a calf in a crisis was a uniquely elephant attribute in the wildlife kingdom
"They have a great loyalty and will especially never leave a calf in trouble.”
Incidents like this had happened occasionally in the park through the years and very occasionally rangers had intervened to help, but most of the time the calf was rescued by the mother and the herd, he said.
"To have got a string of photographs of all the action here is amazing and I’ve not heard of that before.”
The incident had an amusing ending, Ian recalled. Some 10 minutes after the calf had been rescued, another very young animal wobbled over to the edge of the dam – only to be promptly herded away by a very protective mother.