Much Addo about elephants, and others
THERE is much more to Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape than just elephants.
In fact, you don’t even have to be passionate about elephants to enjoy a stay in this beautiful park near Port Elizabeth.
Apart from providing sanctuary to more than 550 elephants, Addo is also one of the few homes to the flightless dung beetle, somewhat smaller than the elephant but no less important to the environment.
Although not high on the endangered list, the dung beetle is not widely found outside Addo as it is under threat from farming and is vulnerable due to its small population and its inability to relocate far — as it is flightless. Resembling a small First World War helmet, it has a preference for elephant dung, although elsewhere it has made do with the dung from other animals, which it tirelessly rolls along in balls four times its size. In Addo, it is treated with as much respect as its larger neighbours and has the right of way when crossing roads.
Addo is also home to lions, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope, zebra and many smaller animals. Following its recent expansion to 180,000ha, which makes it the third-largest national park in the country, Addo’s coastal waters offer the opportunity to spot whales and great white sharks, making it the only park to have the "Big Seven".
We enter the park from the nearby sprawling farming town of Kirkwood and are quickly surrounded by rolling hills in shades of deep green as far as the eye can see, but nowhere is there a sign of an elephant. They cannot be hiding for there are few trees and no thick bush to camouflage them.
Alerted by a sudden movement, I stop the car just in time to see a dung beetle energetically rolling his evening meal across the road in front of us. If there is a dung beetle, an elephant cannot be far away.
The road winds down into a valley, at the base of which is a long dam, and here they are. Not one elephant but at least 20, many accompanied by their young shyly hiding between their large parents. They spray water over their heads to cool their large bodies stained red by the surrounding sand.
Slowly, we creep closer to them, trying not to disturb the natural scene in an effort to photograph the young. As we sit watching, more elephants appear from across the road, eventually swelling the numbers to more than 40. Satisfied with our sighting, we turn back to camp not wanting to arrive late and risk a fine for being in the park after hours.
An oncoming car signals for us to stop and the driver tells us there are lions ahead just past a large cliff. Such friendly behaviour has become almost forgotten in the big parks, but in Addo visitors seem eager to share their experiences. Sure enough, in the distance and through our binoculars, we can make out three lions resting in the grass. They are a long way off and were it not for the helpful visitor, we would probably have missed them.
Not far from the camp, we come across a clearly agitated bush buck. It moves around in circles with its head down. As we get closer, we see the reason for its strange behaviour. A black-backed jackal, half its size, is circling it threateningly. Repeatedly, the jackal leaps forward, snapping at the bush buck’s heels. Perhaps the buck is too tired to run and instead is trying to fend off the attacker by circling to avoid the jackal’s lunges. With the light quickly fading, we cannot linger any longer and reluctantly return to the camp, where we learn the next day that the buck had been killed, presumably by the jackal.
With an introduction like this, we now appreciate there is far more to Addo than elephants. Although as evening sets in, the main activity in the Addo camp is to sit on benches beside the floodlit waterhole and watch the elephants come to us. It’s fascinating to observe the hierarchy as the matriarch drinks first and is then followed by the others, until the juniors get their turn.
Although there is room for everyone, those more fortunate have a chalet or permanent tent overlooking the dam. The chalets furthest away look down onto what appears to be their own private water hole, giving this accommodation a sense of exclusivity, and I make a note to book one of these next time. But all the accommodation in Addo is of a high standard and, as with most SANParks accommodation, is spotlessly clean. The camp sites are generously proportioned, with a hedge between each site giving campers privacy.
However, in the early hours of the morning I discover we are not alone as I am awakened by a heavy rumbling sound, which becomes louder. A large herd of elephants charging towards us perhaps? But then the giveaway, the shrill sound of a train’s whistle pierces the night. Not the sound expected in a nature reserve but a reminder that, in Addo, we are never far from civilisation and even the views from some of the more elevated positions are of farms or small towns
But this should not detract from the pleasure of a visit to the park. The PPC Discovery trail gives the opportunity to meander through the local conserved vegetation and learn more about the individual plants, some of which face extinction, including the Albany thicket, fynbos and nama, as well as the sumptuous bird life. Birders are spoilt by the variety that can be viewed from the bird hide beside a small water hole and can expect to see Karoo scrub robins, kingfisher fiscal flycatchers and rarer types.
The local shop caters for all needs and also sells unusual greeting cards hand-made from original Scarab Paper using sanitised plant fibre from the dung of elephants and other animals, which, as a result of the varied environments and diets of the animals, makes each sheet of paper unique.
• Addo National Elephant Park, www.krugerpark.com/addo-elephant-national-park.htm (012) 428-91111, Camping from R175 a night, safari tents R450