from expat to repat via lots of meandering musings
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Ellie the Elephant
And so to the final stage, and the part of SA that a nature geek like myself loves the most: animals.
After Kynsna, we headed out along the garden route. Our attempt to enter Nature’s Valley (I can’t say it without a Welsh accent, damn those cereal bar ads), touted as a second Eden, was thwarted, as these things so often are, by a bunch of cyclists having some kind of race. However, we did manage a quick stop at Storm’s River Mouth, where I did see a dassie, even if no one else managed to see it or believed me, and where otters are unusually well provided for in terms of facilities:
Finally, we arrived at Addo Elephant National Park, where we would spend the last three nights of our trip. The clue is in the title – it is all about the Ellies. (Isn’t it always?) Having failed to catch a glimpse of the highly elusive Kynsna forest elephants (or elephant, I should say; a tragic note in our guide informed us that there is only one solitary female left), we were hoping to do much better at Addo, where they have over 500. I think we saw most of them. (This might have been due to the forbidden oranges we had accidentally brought into the park: the elephants used to be fed on citrus fruits provided by local co-operatives, and although the practice was stopped in 1979 as the Ellies were getting a bit too feisty at feeding time, apparently some of the older ones haven’t forgotten – they are elephants, after all.)
Addo was set up in 1931 to protect the few elephants remaining in the area. Over the years, the emphasis has shifted from the clearly thriving Ellies to biodiversity, with the park expanding significantly to include a wide variety of ecosystems. The marine area, soon to be incorporated, will enable the park to advertise itself as a ‘Big Seven’ destination in SA, with whales and Great Whites joining the land-based big game (not literally). However, it’s not only the bigguns that get looked after here; it is also the only home of a flightless species of dung beetle, and you must scan the road constantly to avoid running one over. (It took Dad a while to get out of the habit: we can confirm that the M3 is dung beetle-free.)
We stayed in the main camp, imaginatively called Main Camp. Our guest house, Domkrag, was named after a pugnacious leopard tortoise which used to try and lift up cars (‘Domkrag’ means ‘carjack’). Although this legend is sadly no longer with us, we did see several of his kin out and about; fortunately we were greeted a little more amicably. Who knew tortoises could smile?
While Addo lacks the variety and abundance that characterizes the Kruger (an unfair comparison, given that Kruger is quite possibly my favourite place on the planet) it certainly enabled me to get my wildlife fix. Apart from the omnipresent Ellies, other game highlights included a baby jackal (whose little yelps and squeaks were utterly heart-melting; think of the guilt-tripping polar bear cubs who mew their way through nature documentaries with the sole purpose of turning us all into anti-global warming crusaders), a pair of spotted hyenas fighting over the scraps of an eland carcass, and, on our last day, three lions, just to balance things out for the cats.
Waving goodbye to our final Ellie, we left the park and headed to Port Elizabeth to catch an internal flight to Jo’burg, and then home. As a shorter alternative to our usual SA itinerary (by the way, I am fully aware how spoilt having a ‘usual’ itinerary makes me) the combination of Cape Town, the beautiful coastline of the Western Cape, and the elephants of Addo definitely hit the mark. We are already plotting ways to convince my parents that their upcoming Ruby Wedding merits another trip…