As humans, we don’t have the ability to walk or talk from the moment we are born, we learn it. The same applies for some animals. Yes, most are able to walk within minutes of birth, but there are certain actions and behaviours that are learnt, either by observing their mothers, or through trial and error.
We have the privilege of observing these cute youngsters learning the ropes on a daily basis at Londolozi; be it a young impala realising its legs have the ability to hurtle its body 2 metres into the air, or a leopard cub practicing its stalking skills on its mothers tail. The youngsters may just be doing this for fun or because they’re emulating their mother but what they don’t realise is that it’s teaching them crucial life lessons for survival.
Seeing any young animal is always a treat and no doubt entertaining, but my absolute favourite and the one that always gets me giggling are young elephants. A few weeks ago my guests and I had one of the more entertaining elephant sightings I’ve ever had in the bush.
We were watching a herd of elephants approaching a watering hole, which is always exciting as elephants in general love water. The adults seem to get rather excited and the youngsters become uncontrollably animated. We noticed there was a very young calf in the herd following its mother towards the water. It couldn’t have been more than 1,5 – 2 months old, so it was still quite wobbly on its oversized feet and certainly not in control of this “thing” hanging off its face. This appendage of course being its trunk.
They reached the water’s edge where the mother, who’s well rehearsed in the use of her trunk, dipped it straight into the water and started drinking without a hassle – a seasoned professional. Her calf on the other hand, who has only just mastered the art of stopping, seemed to look up at her with amazement, wondering how and what its mother was doing with this ‘thing’ hanging off her face. The youngster seemed to take a moment to work it all through in its head and decided it was going to give it a go. It dipped its miniature trunk into the water and lifted it towards its mouth, spilling every last drop it had so cleverly “sucked” up. It tried time after time, each time getting a little closer, but after about 7 attempts it still had a dry mouth.
The youngster seemed to be getting a little thirsty now and was obviously very jealous of the gallons of water that its mother was pouring down her throat, so he decided to change his approach. He eventually decided to cancel out the middle man and disregard the trunk altogether. He was now going to drink with his mouth.
He dived head first into the water with some serious force, more than likely leaving a perfect imprint of his face in the mud, in order to get the optimal amount of water into his now very parched mouth. Success.
He realised immediately that this new tactic was a winner; it was also helluva fun and so threw his face into the water a few more times.
When it was time to go, the youngster faced his next challenge, namely getting out. This seemed like an easy task, all he had to do was stand and move his legs; much easier said than done for a month and a half old elephant. The mud was now rather thick after all the splashing and the second obstacle was the now drenched bank where he would have to exit. He struggled for a little while but with the help of his mother and a sibling, he managed to get out.
As the herd departed the waterhole, the youngster followed in its midsts, thirst quenched and covered in mud. And we were left grinning ear to ear. A truly remarkable sighting.