Tag Archives: Xakanaka

Only fools and elephants

Having lived in a region where there are lots of elephants, I do tend to blog about them rather a lot.  Forgive me for this indulgence, but they are such beautiful animals and I have such a great respect for them.  I noticed in a newspaper report last week that two Asian visitors to the Kruger National Park in South Africa had their vehicle trampled when they were charged by an angry elephant.  This is always a danger when humans encroach on the space of wild animals and especially elephants.  The sad thing is that humans always come off second best in these encounters – except when the poor elephant is shot for the sins of the visitors.

A regular visitor to our campsite

Fortunately I wasn’t around to see if these tourists provoked the elephant into charging, but they must have done something to annoy it because they are now both in hospital and their vehicle is in the scrapyard.  When we were staying at Xakanaka in Moremi, Botswana, we saw how foolish people can be when they are on holiday in the wild.  We were staying in an unfenced campsite on the edge of the Okavango Delta and had elephants around us daily.  We always retreated when we saw them, feeling so privileged to share their space.

Happily grazing in the swamp nearby

For almost a week a big bull elephant wandered in every day and waded into the swamp next to our campsite.  In fact we woke up one morning and found ourselves eyeball to eyeball with the elephant.  It was quite scary and poor Rob had to make a hasty retreat out of our rooftop tent to a safe spot.  The elephant was not concerned with our presence and grazed the entire day just meters from our campsite.

Waking up to company

Imagine our annoyance when ‘our’ elephant was disturbed in his peaceful grazing by a group of four tourists who walked right up to the waters edge and provoked him into coming after them.  Once they had his attention and he was seeing them off, the husband positioned himself with his camera to get a shot of the elephant going after his wife.  Fortunately for the lady concerned there was a tree behind which she could take refuge, because the elephant was clearly annoyed.

Hoping to get a photo of a death

They then all came over to our campsite and lured the angry elephant towards us, not only endangering us, but putting our vehicles and campsite set up in danger of being trashed.  When we told them how stupid they were, they said they knew all about elephants and there was no danger when a male elephant was feeding on its own.  Maybe one day those famous last words will be on their gravestones.

Happily grazing in the swamp nearby

If you happen to recognize these silly people, perhaps you can talk some sense into them while they are still alive.  We certainly couldn’t.  The Africans have a good name for these kinds of folks – Mampara’s!  Which means ‘idiots’.


So, what could YOU get for a bread crumb?

Quite often when we are camping we toss a few bits of bread into the grass around the campsite to see what local  residents we can attract. Usually we get a few sparrows, weavers, bulbuls, finches, starlings, and hornbills dropping in for a feed; the more precocious of the local birds. Perhaps an occasional squirrel. And usually it’s a bit of a bun fight. Fly in (well, the squirrels run), gobble as much as you can and scram. Grab a beak-full before your neighbour gets it all.

But just sometimes the plot unfolds differently.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Our campsite at Xakanaka in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana was close to the thick undergrowth at the edge of the Okavango Delta, and we tossed a few bits of bread nearby. The usual birds were quick to arrive (and also a group of less usual birds – Yellow-throated petronias). But then, at a few minutes after four o’clock in the afternoon, out of the undergrowth strode a majestic Coppery-tailed coucal (Centropus cupreicaudus), one of the usually shy, skulking birds that is heard more often than it is seen, and when it is seen, it is most often glimpsed through a thickness of reeds or bushes into which it vanishes by magic.

But after a cautious initial look around, this fellow strode out into the open with supreme confidence. Ignoring us totally, he picked up a piece of bread, but instead of eating it as we expected him to do, he paraded with it in his bill along the edge of the bush.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Now we know that many courting rituals involve food, (even human rituals – many a courting couple’s first date is at a restaurant), but we were still surprised when a female coucal emerged from the dense undergrowth and joined him and his trophy in the relative open.

Her appearance brought the male’s display to an abrupt end. Without any further ado he proceeded, bread in bill, to mount her, handing over the bread mid-way through the performance. She accepted the bread and held it in her bill until the deed was done, after which she disappeared back into the bush from whence she had come, still clutching the bread.

Coppery-tailed coucal Coppery-tailed coucal Coppery-tailed coucal

The male walked a little way through the campsite, not quite as haughty as he had been earlier, and presumably his appetites were satisfied for the moment as he showed no further interest in the bread.

Coppery-tailed coucal