Safari Stories – Elephants and Giraffes

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Lonely male elephant walks home after getting a drink of water

As amazing as it is to see the big cats like leopards in Kruger National Park, elephants and giraffes are my favorite animals to see hands down. Both animals are beautiful and majestic and move about the bush with an usually peaceful grace given their size and stature. I can’t get tired of seeing them. On my safari, I counted myself very lucky to have been able to see both of them…first while eating lunch at Hamilton’s Tented Camp.

I arrived at Hamilton’s Tented Camp on July 9 at around 1pm, just in time for lunch. As I waited for the table to be set, I watched as a herd of elephants gathered in the dry river bed. They were digging down into the sand to reach the water table and drink fresh water from the ground.

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Two elephants from the herd and a few impala

Before I went to South Africa, I knew a few things about elephants. They are the largest land mammals on earth (they weigh up to 6 tons), are herbivores and require a massive area as their natural range (even Kruger’s square footage does not suffice). Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal (22 months). The males flap their ears as a warning of a possible attack. This should be taken very seriously since they can tip over vehicles larger than themselves. Elephants are poached for their ivory tusks (as many as 30,000 are poached every year) and are also threatened by habitat loss. The IUCN list considered the African elephant to be vulnerable. There are approximately 470,000 African elephants in the wild, and their population is increasing. However, the rate of poaching threatens their status and welfare.

As one does on safari, I learned more interesting facts about elephants. I didn’t know that the herds are complicated social structures led by female elephants (cows), and that the males (bulls) often live apart from the herd in isolation. And their average life span is up to 70 years of age. This explains why there was a lonely bull who made a daily trip up and down the river bed, returning by himself to his home base.

 

After lunch, I returned to my tent to unpack and get ready for my first game drive. I decided to sit on my deck for a bit and relax. As I was reading my book, the lonely bull appeared right in front of my tent. He was heading to home after getting a drink. Listen carefully, but you can’t hear him take any steps. The elephant truly is the gentle giant. He pauses for a moment and seems to look at me out of the corner of his eye. He is aware of my presence.

 

I also love seeing giraffes in the wild. They are the most curious creatures and even up close, they don’t seem real. Quiet and calm, they all enough to reach the highest branches.

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Giraffe herd having dinner

But their gangly long legs (up to six feet long) look like incredibly awkward stilts when they run. Even so, they can reach up to 35 miles per hour to sprint for short distances. Their height and their body structure make it difficult and dangerous to drink at a water hole. I bet you didn’t know that female giraffes give birth standing up with newborns entering the world and falling from a height of about five feet (doink!). Life is hard enough as it is to have to come into the world that way…

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Curiosity is mutual

Giraffes also didn’t waste any time to make their presence known to me. When I was having my first lunch at Hamilton’s Tented Camp and enjoying the views of the elephants, I noticed an interesting site right out the front door of the main tent. A herd of giraffes were walking by and on their way down to the watering hole where the elephants were.

 

Eventually, the giraffes made it to the ridge above the watering hole and then found their way down into the almost dry river bed. They probably feel more comfortable drinking if elephants are present. Elephants are known to chase any predators away and protect the other animals.

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Giraffes and elephants at the watering hole

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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