Pamushana | May 2020

“Mushroom” or “Old Floppy” – this may be a name that you may hear the guides at Singita Pamushana say when referring to a particular bull elephant that we have become fond of. My name for him is “Mushroom”.

The reason I call him “Mushroom” is because both his huge ears are folded forward, in a manner that is evidently not normal. It reminds me of professional rugby players engaging in what is known as “the scrum” who very often come out with damaged ears that once healed look like mushrooms or cauliflowers!

When we spend time watching him, we can see that he doesn’t have the full natural operational use of his ears. Specifically speaking, he cannot flap his ears in the conventional way that other African elephants do. It would appear that the tendons/ligaments on the upper part of the ear, where it attaches to his head, are damaged. We don’t know how this happened, however we can hypothesize a number of reasons. It could have been a birth defect; or possibly his ears were damaged through fighting/rough play, or even he may have damaged them through rubbing too hard against a tree/rock in too much of a rear moving forceful manner; it could be diet related – eating something at some point that affected the tendons… No matter how it happened, “Mushroom” has overcome his disability and continues to do well.

Now not being able to flap your ears as an African elephant, presents some unique challenges for him – elephants have a huge amount of blood vessels running close to the surface of the skin, on the rear/sheltered side of the ears. Elephants don’t as such possess sweat glands and so they have to cool down their bodies in different ways. One of these ways is to flap their huge ears (which account for nearly 20% of their body’s surface area) and cause wind to blow over the blood vessels carrying the warm blood. This in turn cools it down and the blood returns to the body just that little cooler. Elephants have also taken this a step further in that they will often blow water or throw mud behind their ears and then flap them. This in turn cools the blood in the ears faster and is more effective in cooling the elephant.

Now “Mushroom” not being able to flap his ears has worked out that he needs to frequent shaded areas more and to cover his ears with mud. As the moisture in the mud evaporates, this in turn cools his blood vessels and he is good to go.

It has also not stopped him from being a proactive elephant bull when it comes to the females. If one is looking for “Mushroom” all we need to do is locate the female elephant herds and there is a good chance we will find him practicing his chat up lines on one of the lady elephants!

He is nothing short of being a real character and for that reason, I particularly, am really fond of him.

Photographs by Brad Fouché