The devils in the detail

Pamushana | August 2019

It’s always a pleasure to sit in Hwata photo hide, especially during the mid-morning, as wild animals of different species arrive to quench their thirst in the south of the reserve, as this is the only water-point with water all year round.

One morning as we sat out of any animal’s view in the hide, four adult bull elephants walked towards the pan with their speed increasing as they got closer. At such close quarters there is something very special about watching these animals – you can even see the hairs on their bodies which we normally don’t take notice of from a vehicle. Elephants, like all mammals, have hair but they lose much of it as youngsters, and as adults it is sparse but for the tip of the tail. Unlike other species that use hair to insulate themselves, researchers found that in a slight breeze an elephant’s sparse hairs can enhance its ability to lose heat.

Whilst we were studying these minute details, and the guests were clicking away with cameras, an elephant stuck his trunk in at the window and sprayed all of us with mud! As we stood there in shock another blast came in again so we all took off to shelter in the bathroom! When calm was restored we all stood their caked in mud and watched the bulls wallowing and drinking.

Mud wallowing is essential to these creatures as the mud plays a very important role as a sunscreen lotion. Also, after mud wallowing they will look for a rough surface of a tree and rub themselves to get rid of the ecto- parasites that will drop together with the mud.

We, however, had to wait quite a long time before we could rid ourselves of the mud under a glorious outdoor shower, and reapply our sunscreen!