A Rustle and a Tussle

Wildlife Spotlight | 23rd November 2020

A battle between siblings is the topic of the latest in Ranger Sean Jones’s series of posts sharing his experiences at Shambala Private Game Reserve.

Amongst animals there is always competition, whether it is two dominant male Zebra competing ferociously over territory, or a group of young male Impala battling it out to see who will get the breeding rights with a female. Carnivores like Lions and Hyenas often have a bit of a struggle over who gets to eat first and the size of the portion they get to have. Sometimes it’s just your usual sibling rustle and tussle to show strength, but no matter the situation an animal always has to prove he is better and more significant than the other to gain ultimate reward.

When size comes into play the situation may differ a bit. For instance when a Rhino bull wants to square off against a bull Elephant over a resource they find more nutritious, the battle is over before it even started as the smaller of the two, being the Rhino, quickly backs away before getting trampled or impaled by the large elephant and its sizable tusks. However, that very same elephant will quickly retreat in similar fashion had it been caught by surprise by the ‘ever so dangerous’ field mouse.

It was a late summer afternoon when we came across a herd of elephants standing on either side of the road, in the bush, enjoying the fresh nutritious leaves that the recent rainfall provided. These large herbivores can have quite a diverse diet, eating from various species of trees and grass; they have to take in about 300 kilograms of food every day to sustain their massive bodies that can weigh up to 6 tons.  As part of their diet the elephants eat scrumptious leaves from trees, but when times get challenging and water is too distant, one can often find these mammoth like creatures uprooting trees to get hold of the roots. The roots of a tree are highly nutritious and contain large amounts of water, as this is the water storage compartment of the tree. Elephants know this, and can pick it up easily with their acute sense of smell. Once they have identified the area they want to get to they will ever so gently push over the tree using their immense strength with a combination of their tusks, trunk and body weight to expose the roots for them to feed on.

We sat silently as we watched the enormous animals engage in their feeding practices. They were a happy bunch, as food and water were plentiful thanks to the recent rains. When conditions are this favourable, animals are less concerned about migrating for resources, and often entertain themselves with social interaction. With these animals having great social intellect, this was the ideal time for some bonding. An opportunity presented itself for a young bull in the herd to pester his older sister as she was standing relaxed watching her little calf nibble on a small branch. As the elephant cow was facing the opposite direction to her male sibling, he gradually increased his pace as he started walking to her from across the road. But she was too sharp for him as she had already foreseen his intention, knowing her mischievous little brother’s behaviour she quickly turned around to face the oncoming onslaught.

The young bull elephant gained momentum as he reached the road, but at the same time his sister was engaged in a stance prepared for his move, and announced this to him with a loud trumpet.  Suddenly, with a thumping of heads the battle of the siblings began. There was a large push there, and a forward shove here, as the two giants pushed each other around. The adorable little calf just calmly stood beside the action packed ‘arena’ looking at what’s going on, having full confidence that its mom knows what she’s doing.

The sound emerging from this rustle and tussle wasn’t as loud as one would originally think coming from two massive mammals, it was merely the feet dragging and stomping on the ground with the odd grumble from the elephants once in a while to let each other know that they still have plenty in them. As we sat watching, we suddenly realized that as much as we are enjoying the show we had a bit of roadblock and that we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. It was one of the moments where one appreciates nature, and needs to exhibit patience in the bush. The elephants were engaged tusk to tusk spanning across the road. At this stage they were leaning against each other having a bit of a ‘pause’ just to grasp a breath for a few minutes before trying to best each other once again. It’s not easy pushing all that weight around, and every large shove and struggle takes quite a bit of energy from these grey giants, so it’s important to have key moments to take a break.

 

Nothing could get in the way of these two, not even a nearby tree that was merely pushed over amidst the commotion. The little calf had to make sure it steered clear of the action as it might have ended up like the tree if it wasn’t careful. After a period of about 45 minutes the sibling rivalry had finally come to an end. Although surprisingly enough there was no victor, as both elephants were now exhausted from swinging their massive bodies around and pushing another heavyweight. They had just plain and simply lost interest and grabbed hold of the nearest branch to replenish the lost energy. They both probably conceded that they were of equal strength. The baby elephant rubbed against its mom as if to congratulate her on her performance. They then slowly moved off the road in search of other herd members, and our road was cleared as we continued our game drive.

Ranger Sean Jones
Shambala Private Game Reserve


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