Recently one of the most unlikely of David and Goliath battles unfolded on the banks of the Sand River. A 34g creature took on a team of 6-ton beasts with nothing to defend itself but sheer defiance. Imagine the scene, a tiny Three-banded plover peering up at a hulking grey mass looming over it and not once did it consider backing down.
Three-banded plovers usually nest in a shallow scraping on the ground, in river gravel or amongst a patch of pebbles. The eggs are therefore exposed and vulnerable but are incredibly well camouflaged by a network of brown blotches and scrawls that streak across it. A herd of elephants are certainly not attempting to attack a Three-banded plover nest purposefully but in their stiff-legged haste to reach the water, they tend to trample whatever lies in their path.
My guests and I sat frozen in horror, fingers across eyes as giant feet fell over and around the nest site. The incredibly brave little bird danced at their feet, wings spread, calling furiously to try to distract the threat. It would bob its head, fan its wings and tail and hold it to one side, apparently trying to make itself look as big and intimidating as possible. Some of the elephants continued none-the-wiser while others actually flicked their trunks agitatedly at the bird. Not once did the bird fly away or abandon its nest, it only jumped to the side, as the enormous trunks and feet swept within centimeters of it.
Generally, the female will tend to the incubation of the eggs during the day while the male defends their territory. Then at night the female will feed and the male will incubate the young. When it gets extremely hot, the adults will crouch over the eggs and may even soak their belly feathers in water to cool the eggs down.
Miraculously, this little bird managed to hold its own against these giants and as a result saved its precious brood. Two of the chicks hatched and began their journey here at Londolozi under the careful protection of, in my opinion, two of the very bravest of parents.
Written by Amy Attenborough, Londolozi Ranger
Photographed by David Dampier, Londolozi Financial Director and Jos Van Bommel, Guest