Sometimes things just go your way in the bush, and without any effort on your part, incredible sightings pop up around every corner.
I recently had two friends come and visit for the weekend, and we were blessed with some wonderful game-viewing over a 48 hour period. On our first morning we were heading out to visit the local hyena den, when ranger Garrett Fitzpatrick radioed to say that he had heard a leopard calling somewhere near where we were driving. We switched off the vehicle to listen, and within 5 mins the Piva male came walking over the crest towards us.
After watching him for awhile we continued on to the hyena den and spent an amusing half hour watching the antics of the cubs.
The real highlight of the drive, however, was just around the corner, waiting on the banks of the Maxabene Riverbed.
Heading down a link towards the sandy riverbank, we spotted the back of an elephant behind some guarrie bushes to our right, and stopped to have a look. As the elephant – a young female – slowly emerged from behind the thicket, we were thrilled to see that she had an absolutely tiny calf with her. Part of its umbilical cord was still attached and it was very wobbly on its feet, both sure indicators that it was scarcely a day old! What was confusing was that the rest of the herd was nowhere to be seen. Elephants are social animals, and females giving birth are generally surrounded by the rest of their family group, with the other adults creating a protective ring around the mother and newborn calf. In this case, we couldn’t even hear any others in the vicinity.
Even more surprising was how relaxed the mother was with our presence. Young elephant mothers (this one was a young female, and quite possibly this was her first or second calf) can be nervous of intruders, and being away from the protection of the herd gave this female even more reason to be unrelaxed, yet she continued as if we weren’t even there. She had approached to quite a short distance by the time we had noticed the calf, so we decided to just sit still and watch, mainly to try not to scare the calf by turning the engine on.
The adult female continued to dust-bathe, barely 10m from the Land Rover, while the calf seemed to nod off on its feet while standing next to her. It would close its eyes and seem to be falling asleep, when suddenly its legs would droop and it would wake up with a start, look around it, then go back to dozing.
The pair remained right next to us for a good half an hour, while the mother continued to spray dust on herself and the calf got in the way occasionally. Eventually they moved off into the thickets and we headed in the opposite direction, elated with the intimate experience we had enjoyed.