Kruger National Park Rangers Diary

In nature there are many examples of animals that have adapted to the specific circumstances of their environment, but for an individual animal to have to adapt to a physical impairment or handicap such as losing a limb can prove a major challenge. In the Kruger National Park (KNP) we have a wonderful example of such an animal.

This is an elephant bull that roams the area between the Mooiplaas and Shingwedzi game rangers' sections.

The elephant has somehow lost approximately 50 percent of his trunk and the only explanation that I can offer is that his trunk went into the loop of a poacher's wire snare which then pulled so tight that the lower half of the trunk was eventually cut off.

It is common knowledge that an elephant feeds itself by picking branches, grass or fruit with its trunk with which it then puts the food into its mouth. At the end of the trunk an elephant has two mobile and lip-like protrusions that function as a very dexterous “hand” that can deftly pick up an object as small as a child’s glass marble.

The loss of 50 percent of its trunk was thus a very serious impairment to this elephant and to eat it thus had to either adapt or die. When I first saw the animal about four years ago I could not believe that he could feed himself and I was surprised to see that he was not thin at all, but in good physical condition. I spent a lot of time with him to observe how he managed to feed himself with only half a trunk and without the help of the “hand” at the end of the trunk. On the first occasion that I saw him he only ate young branches and leaves from mopane shrubs. These were at the height of his mouth and all he had to do was to easily pull them closer to and into his mouth. It was only during a later observation that I eventually saw him eating grass and this is where his amazing ability to adapt was revealed.

He had learnt that if he wanted to feed on grass he had to select patches with the tallest available grass and then bend down into an obviously very uncomfortable crouch, grab a bundle of grass with the short trunk and pull it against one of his forelegs and then tear the grass off. He would then very dexterously balance the bundle of grass in the bend of the short trunk and flip it up to his mouth before the grass could fall off this bend in the trunk.Watching this elephant feed clearly demonstrates that great strain is placed on the animal’s neck muscles while it bends down so low without actually kneeling. The many hours spent straining his neck so low have subsequently caused the elephant’s neck and head to assume a permanently “low posture” to his body and this feature immediately strikes one upon first seeing this elephant as it gives the impression of a “smaller” elephant To drink, he either walks into the water to a depth where the tip of the trunk can reach the water, or sometimes again bends down in that awkward stance to reach the water.The trunk is however too short to put the tip into his mouth in order to release the water, therefore he has to squirt the water across the gap between the tip of the trunk and his mouth and in the process much of the water falls back into the pool that he is drinking from. Drinking is thus a slow and laborious process, but once again one he has admirably adapted to. This animal is truly a remarkable example of the “adapt or die” and “survival of the fittest” theories.

Feisty Jack Russells Go Head To Head With Four Crocs

Neels van WykWhen Neels van Wyk, section ranger at Crocodile Bridge, received a call from a Komatipoort resident that dogs had cornered a buffalo in the reeds across from the Komati Golf Course, he was not prepared for the events that were about to unfold.

"The person is a resident of Crocodile Street and he could still hear the dogs barking by the time we arrived," said Neels, who had gathered a few of his field rangers to investigate the situation. "We wasted little time in getting to the scene, being guided by the constant barking. I had my rifle and we walked about 800m when we reached the reeds."

Neels cautioned the field rangers that the buffalo would in all probability charge when he picked up their presence and they should be extra careful. "We entered the dense reed bush and the situation was very tense. As we approached the edge of the bush we found an open sandy area and were about 15 paces away from the barking. I was ready to, at any moment, face a very irritated buffalo, when the following picture developed."

Neels says about 10 metres away were two short-legged Jack Russell dogs in a showdown on the sand with four crocodiles. The crocodiles were lined up in front of the dogs and moving forward while snapping their jaws at them, trying desperately to get a midday snack. As if in a dance, the dogs escaped the crunching jaws and, in turn, reiterated with Jack Russell chomps. "They were literally a metre apart," says Neels.

He rushed towards the spectacle and three of the crocodiles returned to the water. One stood its ground, not about to let go of the tasty nibble. "I calmed the dogs and after a while they came to us. The last crocodile had to go back to the water empty-jawed." By that time it was late afternoon and Neels and his team had the dogs with them as they returned to their vehicles.

"The dogs were well looked after and I wanted to ask their owners how they found themselves in the reeds, but having asked a number of people, we could not establish who the owners were." In the end, Neels decided to let the dogs go and see if they would find their way home so that he could follow them there. "That was the last we saw, they outran us all."

By Johann Oelofse

Kruger National Park - South African Safari