We drive to Hotspot. Broken terrain. Monkey thorn trees line the path. We encounter the first obstacle. Monkey thorn. About 60 years old. Split about one-and-a-half meters above the root. Branches broken and littered on the road surface.
This got me thinking: why do we need elephant on a reserve like Kaingo? Are they not a relic of the past where Africa was open to their migrations; both seasonal and social? I mean; here we are on a reserve that can handle only a finite number of elephant because of their feeding and habitat requirements. Too many and they destroy their habitat completely, taking all the lesser game species with them. Too few and their social systems collapse.
Sure; in a natural world, the African elephant is one of the mammals that will modify their habitat to create open areas needed by other animals for sufficient grazing. And then there is seed dispersal.
With an insatiable appetite and a gut system not unlike our own, they are not that great in digesting seeds and fruits. Look at any elephant bolus (the term for a big, round ball of dung) and you will notice the seed of a dozen different plants in a great growth medium. Birds from the minute Blue Waxbill to the Helmeted guineafowl dig through the dung for a tasty morsel of grass or tree seed.
Their ‘wasteful’ eating habits allow smaller animals (steenbok and bushbuck, to name a few) access to the nutritious top layer of the leaf of the broken branches they discard. They unconsciously create living spaces for field mice and gerbils and termites and a host of other bugs.
By my reckoning elephant has got a place in the ecological welfare of Kaingo, but do we really need them?
My answer is an unequivocal YES. We need them not only for their ecological powers either. We need them for far more…
We need elephant for their majesty. Their sheer size to keep us humble. We need their strength and power to bring back a small bit of our own aboriginal respect for nature. We need their good humour and playfulness around a waterhole. We need their intelligence to bring us back to our own roots in the natural world. We need them to make us grounded.
And that dear reader is why we need elephant!