Playful young elephant
By Ryan Hillier

At the beginning of September last year, fellow ranger Brendon had A once in a lifetime elephant sighting when he discovered a newborn elephant calf in one of the herds on Kwandwe Private Game Reserve and now, almost five months later, this little elephant is still stealing the show!

On a recent afternoon game drive, we left Fort House and soon after crossing the Great Fish River found a large herd of elephants in the northern parts of the reserve. They were feeding along a thickly vegetated valley and initially we could just see the top of the heads and backs of the adults as they moved unhurriedly in our direction. Gradually they approached us and began to emerge onto the road in front of us. More and more kept appearing and we realised then that it was, in fact, two herds together, probably between fifty and sixty individuals! With so many together there was a lot of interaction between them and we enjoyed watching them greeting one another, playing and pushing each other around.

Now that they were moving out into the open, we could see some of the smaller ones who, up until then, had been completely hidden by the dense vegetation and that’s when this tiny calf popped out. It certainly wasn’t lacking in attitude, and with its mother and older cousins backing it up why would it! As the adults looked on nonchalantly, the playful little calf came rushing out with its ears spread and trunk out … just to let us know who was in charge.

As always, we kept a respectful distance between us, and the adults paid us little attention. They continued feeding and we watched as some reached up to pluck twigs off the high branches, while others dug with their feet to expose roots which they would rip out with their trunks and snap off over the points of their tusks. The youngster followed their example, although it was more for something to play with than actual nourishment!

At this age the calf is still suckling from its mother and will have only just begun to eat vegetation. With food still hanging out of its mouth, the youngster’s curiosity returned in full force and it investigated us once more. It takes a long time, about a year in fact, for a young elephant to learn how to use its trunk properly and the calf’s antics were comical. It would come around the side of a bush and peer over at us, trunk twisting and turning as it tried to figure us out, then rush off with its trunk flailing wildly from side to side only to reappear around another bush moments later!

For ages this game carried on and we delighted in every moment! Eventually the calf tired of it and while it kept an eye on us, it continued to practice how to use its trunk and mingled with the other members of the herd. Of course, elephants are very social creatures and we were treated to some very special moments of tenderness as some of the bigger elephants interacted with the young calf and began to gently shepherd it along. Slowly, the herds began to move off as they carried on feeding down the valley with the little one in tow, pausing occasionally to peek back at us over the bushes.

Without noticing, an hour and a half had passed since we had first found them…the old adage of time flies when you’re having fun. It certainly had, and not only for us, but seemingly the playful young elephant too!