The Safari Diaries: Day 2

What people forget to tell you about Africa is that it gets cold there, too – colder than you would expect, especially out in the Savannah. That’s why at 6 a.m. on my second day in South Africa I set off to see the elephants looking like this:

Photo Credit: Mariana Avelino

Despite nearly freezing my toes off, the experience was incredible. So amazing, in fact, that I want to share some of my favourite snapshots, as well as the top three fascinating things I learned about these beautiful animals.

  1. Elephants are smarter than you think.

Elephants have a reputation for being wise, which has a lot to do with their uncanny ability to remember things. “An elephant never forgets” is a saying we are all familiar with and, as you probably know, it’s completely true. Elephants are capable of perfectly recalling routes to water and food sources after many years have passed and hundreds of miles have been wandered. But there is more to their intelligence than memory.

Elephants, like humans, communicate and not just by trumpeting. They communicate with each other constantly, in complex ways. Humans simply cannot hear them, because the sounds they make are too low for our ears to register.

The most fascinating element however, is the discovery that elephants are one of the few species which ritually mourn their dead. Upon seeing the bones or carcass of another elephant, a herd will stop and investigate them, even if the elephant was unrelated to the group. They demonstrate their grieving by touching the bones gently with their trunks while remaining very quiet, covering the body with leaves and grass, and if the elephant belonged to their own herd, staying with the body for days or weeks at a time.

  1. Elephants are misunderstood foodies.
A young bull elephant. Photo credit: Mariana Avelino
The branch of an acacia tree. Photo Credit: Mariana Avelino

One bull elephant weighs approx.7 tons, eats for approx.18 hours per day, and ingests approx.500 pounds of vegetation every day. It consume grass, bark, foliage, twigs, and roots, and has developed interesting ways to access its food, from using its tusks to peel bark off trees, to stomping on twigs to flatten irritating thorns. Unfortunately, with such an insatiable appetite, elephants leave visible scars on their environment.

The unpalatable truth is that elephants are often destructive forces, but we mustn’t condemn them for it, since the pressure these creatures exert on their environment is largely a consequence of human action. Humans have occupied the lands elephants once roamed, reducing their grazing grounds, and restricting their movements. If elephants were allowed to roam freely, the landscape would look very different – herds would migrate farther and give the vegetation time to recover.

  1. Elephants are one of the Big Five, but probably not why you think.

What does Big Five stand for? I always thought it referred to the most iconic animals of the African savannah. Turns out, it refers to the five deadliest animals of the savannah. Elephants, together with lions, leopards, buffalos and rhinos, have been given this name because they are the most dangerous beasts to hunt on foot.

If they feel threatened, elephants can stampede at no less than 45mph. In other words, elephants can very easily outrun humans and pose a significant threat to us when provoked. They also happen to be the most dangerous animal to observe from a vehicle due to their size and power, which is enough to flip a truck upside down.

Despite this, elephants are usually gentle giants; a fact I would like to remind you of with this video (spoiler: there’s a baby elephant in it).

Mariana Avelino

Photo Credit: