In late September I returned from a 3 week visit to Botswana, Africa. Always searching for opportunities to visit lands of pristine wilderness I am often drawn to both eastern and southern Africa. Botswana in particular offers a rich and varied landscape supporting plentiful wildlife. This trip took me to the Okavango Delta, then the banks of the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers and lastly to the Tuli Enclave in eastern Botswana. I expected to see the African big five – lion, cape buffalo, leopard, rhino and elephant – along with a multitude of other species. Sightings were abundant but one common theme was the large herds of elephants and these animals certainly left a special place in my heart.
Aerial view of herds feeding and moving along the Linyanti River
Botswana is home to the highest percentage of Africa’s elephant population estimated at approximately 200,000 of the 500-600,000 which populate the continent in total. Elephants congregate in herds which consist of a family group of females and their calves led by one of the older females called a matriarch. Males tend to be more solitary but may at times be seen in small bachelor groups. They are one of the world’s most intelligent species and it was a privilege to have the opportunity to view the herds on many occasions. Communication between the group was continuous and ranged from low rumbles coming from the back of the throat to a load trumpet made from their trunk, both providing a signal of differing intensity to members. I was able to observe many behaviors and emotions including affection, child care, discipline, play and cooperation. A most memorable event was watching a herd cross the Chobe River. Only the trunks of the baby elephants were visible slightly above the water and I was in awe of the effort made by the herd to all cross safely. Interaction between the group is always focused and caring to secure the long term viability of the group.
An adult looks back toward a calf during a Chobe River crossing. The calf is swimming submerged so all that is visible is the small trunk at the adult’s side. Two herd members demonstrate affection by touching trunks.
These animals are not without threats, the primary being habitat loss and poaching for their ivory tusks. Let us hope that increased awareness and efforts to minimize these perils will protect these majestic creatures so that they will be here for generations to come.