Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Avril, a Matriarch Elephant

The area of land around RiverBend Lodge was incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park in  2004 . This area is now known as the Nyathi (isiXhosa for Buffalo) Concession and is approximately  14 000 hectares in extent.
The Elephant herd which now wanders the Nyathi Concession was relocated by closing the main road between Addo and Paterson and opening the fences between the two sections - the Addo Elephant National Park and the Nyathi Concession. The herd was merely (although a difficult and well planned and executed process)  moved across the road. This herd originally numbered 67 Elephants and the Matriarch was an Elephant named Avril.
Avril died in July of 2010 - with all of the herd in close proximity.
Two of the words I would use to describe Elephant behaviour are 'discipline' and 'respect' (both words which are fast becoming meaningles in our human society) - and the following story, which I witnessed, illustrate this perfectly.
In February of this year I was taking photographs of the Elephant herd walking from RiverBend Lodge towards Long Hope Villa and I was parked not far from the now dried remains of Avril, which were on my left. The Elephants came up towards me (from my right - with RiverBend Lodge in the background ) in groups and upon reaching the remains of the Matriarch, stopped and touched the remains with their trunks. Once they had touched the remains, many of the older Elephants also swung their trunks over the bones in a slow circular fashion and then swinging the trunk towards themselves as if making (or receiving?) some kind of blessing  Some of the younger Elephants attempted to walk past the remains but were immediatly prevented from doing so by the older Elephants, and not allowed to move on until they had 'paid their respects'!
Observing this behaviour was indeed both a privilege and at the same time extremely thought provoking experience  - something I will never forget.
I was fortunate enough to get photographs (unfortunately I only had a 300mm lens, so could not capture the 'wide' scene) of this 'ceremony'.

           One of the Groups moving up towards me with part of RiverBend Lodge in the background.

                                                                      Avril's skull

                                                                    What I witnessed!

                                            Even the young were taught how to behave!!!

The Elephant herd at RiverBend (Nyathi Concession) now numbers 108 and Guests to RiverBend Lodge and Long Hope Villa can experience really close up Elephant Encounters, with our experienced Guides, during their stay.

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