Shortly after we started out on our morning drive on the second day at Hwange National Park, we came across a jackal that had just made a kill. It looked up as we approached. From where we had stopped, we could hear the bones breaking as he chomped down on his breakfast. Godfrey thought it probably had been a bird.
Not long after we left the jackal, Sandra spotted an elephant just as it materialized from the bush a few yards from our jeep. Godfrey stopped so we could take her photo. We were so focused on taking photos that we didn’t see another elephant, probably her child or family member, across the path until Sandra called our attention to it.
By the time we shifted our attention to the other elephant, the mother had spread her ears so wide, she looked massive. I thought it was an impressive display and a wonderful photo opportunity until Sandra said it was how elephants intimidate a predator or rival. Since elephants are not famous for good eyesight, I’m not sure which she perceived us to be.
The day continued to be full of elephant excitement. A herd was already approaching the next watering hole when we arrived.
We watched as babies and mothers wallowed in the mud. Wallowing is the way elephants socialize and the mud acts as a sunscreen. Gee, I thought, even elephants recognize the value of a mud bath! They were clearly enjoying themselves, especially the babies. A few of the mothers would pick up the mud with their trunks and splash it over theirs and their babies’ backs. It was a touching sight.
After they had finished, the older females formed a semi-circle and one mom started defecating. We’d seen elephants doing that – sometimes even as they walked – but this was different, in appearance as well.
We were shocked when, as soon as she finished, the babies and young ones gathered around and began eating.
Revolted though we were at the thought of what we were witnessing, we were rooted to our spot until the last baby finished. By then, there was no evidence of the “meal.”
Godfrey confessed he’d never seen anything like it before but one of the guides in camp explained that it was a condition known as coprophagia. When young animals lack the vital bacteria that aids in digestion, they get it from their parent’s feces.
Isn’t it just amazing how nature has a plan for everything?
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