Driving back from an afternoon scouting trip last week, I came across a lone bull elephant around the Nyamasikana crossing area. He caught my attention as he seemed oblivious to the sound of my vehicle approaching. I turned off the vehicle and decided to watch him for a bit. This is when I picked up on his body language…
At first he was feeding from ground level at the base of an umbrella thorn (Vachellia tortilla). I then saw that the posture of his head changed and he seemed to be searching the sky above him, I quickly realised what was happening. At the moment all our umbrella thorns have just come into pod and this elephant bull knew this and was searching the trees for low hanging branches that he could reach with his trunk extended, to break a branch down and have a good feed on a mouthful or two of pods. I could see that most of the branches were above his reach but he continued on walking around the tree and gazing skyward.
I wondered if this bull might stand up on his back legs like a few of the elephant bulls in Mana Pools National Park? It has been witnessed on a few occasions in Botswana, Namibia, South Luangwa, Kafue and Kruger. Its seems to happen a lot more in Mana than anywhere else. In Mana it is mostly because of the ana trees, also known as apple-ring acacias or winter thorns (Faidherbia albida). They are large trees with very high canopies that provide a lot of sustenance by way of their pods, which elephants love during drier times.
I decided to get my phone out and have the camera ready just in case…
Lo and behold, this bull elephant worked out which branch was closest to the ground and he positioned himself, moved his massive weight onto his back legs, raised his front legs off the ground and brought down a sizeable tree branch full of pods!
I was ecstatic to say the least, I have only ever seen this one other time and that was in Mana Pools, many moons ago.
It would be interesting to know the species of trees in the other countries where this was recorded. I have not heard of anyone seeing this in any other areas in Zimbabwe except in Mana Pools and this could be the first record of it happening here in the south eastern part of Zimbabwe.