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Elephants get “cozy” in the Winter

Written By: admin on July 16, 2009 No Comment

In general, most people think of Springtime as the time for “love”, but perhaps for some wildlife, it is the crisp chill of Winter that arouses the desire to warm up and get cozy. Some recent elephant observations made along the Chobe riverfront in Botswana, have led me to believe hat this must be true… or should I say “musth” be true.

Surprisingly, winter in Botswana can get quite chilly, especially  in the mornings and evenings. At times, there is frost on the ground. It is also when the air is dry, the rains have stopped, leaves have changed, water holes (pans) are drying and the wildlife are on the move. (see Botswana life in EWB’s photo gallery, click here) Herds of elephants are beginning to accumulate again in the northern reaches of Chobe National park. As the flood waters have receded, tall lush grasses are now exposed, luring the herds to cross the river and graze ’til their hearts and bellies are content.

Herds grazing on the now exposed luscious grasses in Chobe

Herds grazing on the now exposed lush grasses in Chobe

The majority of the elephants are breeding herds, consisting of families, female adults and their offspring. The bulls along the Chobe riverfront tend to be young, between their teen years and  mid-30’s. It is a rare occasion to see a larger, older staunch bull.  But recently, I have noticed a few…  not lured by the grasses, but the females. Out on the floodplains, they stood out, massive among the herds.

I have been frequenting a particular area, pinpointed as a recent daily route of one of our collared elephants, Shy One, who returned to the area just 2 weeks ago. (why does EWB track? click here)  Early afternoons, she has been coming down  from the security of the teak woodlands to graze on the floodplains until late evening. One afternoon, I was waiting for her herd to appear from the wooly caper bush.  I suddenly caught the unmistakable scent of a bull in musth. I turned around to witness a gathering of bulls, with one handsomely, large bull in the center, the obvious culprit of my senses and the dominant one.

Elephants mating

Elephants mating

They had gathered around a female. Quickly and quietly, the bull mounted her, copulating for just a few short minutes. Soon, it was over. She turned to smell him and rubbed her body against him, but then slowly she strode off to join her herd to graze. I was surprised at the calmness of the event. Previous elephant matings I have been lucky enough to witness, had been much more of an “event”, with the herds demonstrating riotous behavior.

EWB collared elephant with her "escort"

EWB collared elephant, Shy One, with her "escort"

The next afternoon, again, I had positioned myself perfectly to observe Shy One, as she was about to emerge. I could see her with her unit slightly exposed, just behind a shrub.  When, I noticed some bulls coming around a bend. And again, another particularly large bull was amongst them, different from the one I observed the previous day. Shy One finally appeared and much to my surprise, she had a male escort. The bulls began to gather and sniff at her. I was very excited and anxious. The chances of potentially witnessing a mating of one of our collared elephants was unbelievable to me! and I was prepared with camera in hand! However, unfortunately, luck wasn’t in the cards for me that day. A fast moving tourist vehicle quickly came around the bend and spooked her back into the shrubs. I waited until the sun had set, but she did not reappear.

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