One story from our latest Wildlife Report from Singita Sabi Sand got plenty of attention this week and was shared on various news and social media networks worldwide. It’s easy to see why when you look at this amusing series of photos by field guides Leon van Wyk and Ross Couper – they certainly gave us the giggles!
Time has once again flown by, and yet another marula season has come and gone. February 2014 saw a real bumper crop of these delicious fruit being produced by the many hundreds of marula trees that are to be found at Singita Sabi Sand. Various animals were seen tucking into this fruity feast with great gusto! Not only the elephants, who are so famous for enjoying these smooth-skinned, large-stoned fruits, but also monkeys, baboons, impala, kudu, warthogs, zebra… and, of course, humans.
There has long been an African myth about the marula fruit intoxicating large mammals that have consumed huge amounts of the fallen fruit. This bush legend played in my mind recently when we had a sighting of an elephant herd moving through the bush, feeding on the fermenting marula fruit. The younger elephants walked behind the older siblings, picking up and eating the fruit as they moved – the older elephants seemed to be ‘teaching’ the youngsters what was safe to eat. An adult cow had forcefully shaken a nearby marula tree, knocking off lots of the fruit, which a few younger elephants passed by our vehicle to eat. We watched in awe because the youngsters definitely seemed to display signs of being rather tipsy!
As amusing as the idea may be, it is in fact extremely unlikely. In reality, an elephant eating only marulas may consume roughly 30kg in one day or approximately 714 individual fruits. This is less than half of the marulas needed to produce intoxication. There have been reports of elephant behaviour that resembles an intoxicated state, but research shows that this is unlikely to occur only from eating marulas.
It has been speculated that the behaviour may be the result of the elephants eating beetle pupae that live in the bark of marula trees. These pupae have traditionally been used by the San people to poison their arrow tips, and this toxin could lead to behavioural changes in animals that consume it. Another explanation is that bull elephants, who are particularly fond of marula fruit, are simply defending their favourite food resource.
The beautiful elephants of Singita Sabi Sand feature regularly in our monthly Wildlife Reports and on our social media pages. Spanning more than 45,000 acres, this concession is also renowned for high concentrations of big game and frequent leopard sightings.