Thursday, July 18, 2013

Great White Place

Greetings All,
We have finished the Mushara Elephant Expedition.  After two weeks at the waterhole Marc and I cataloged 53 bulls, 28 of them known visitors and 25 new individuals.  We also documented 6 breeding herds including several new herds to the area.  We put together a PowerPoint containing photos and identifying characteristics for each bull.

Marc Working on the PowerPoint

For example, Etosha has a big tear in his left ear and a heart shaped tail.

Etosha's ID Page

Jerry has extreme ear folding and sparse tail hair. 

Jerry's ID Page

By the end of two weeks we could refer to our PowerPoint and identify a bull that had previously visited the water hole.

The herds were much more difficult to document.  There are more individuals and when they're grouped together its difficult to single out individuals for identification.  There were however some very distinct individuals such as Wynonna and her calf Liza.  Wynonna has a "W"shaped cutout in her left ear and a missing left tusk. She is part of the Actors Herd.

Wynonna's ID page

Crumpled Ear is a member of the herd named after her.  She has a very obvious crumpled right ear which makes identifying her easy even at night when most of the herds visit the waterhole.

Crumpled Ear's ID Page

Marc compiled a video library of over 300 gigabytes of footage we took during our two week stay. Hopefully this will make it easier for Caitlin, the lead researcher, to find a particular event.

Marc videoing the Action at Mushara

After two weeks, we were not only getting to know the elephants, we were getting to know the lion pride that makes Mushara their home.  The dominant male who I called "Dark Mane", kept us awake many nights with his grunting roars while mating with one of the lionesses.

Keep Away from my Woman!

 The cubs would visit in the morning and "Bent Ear" would stare at me with an intensity beyond curiosity.

"Bent Ear"

On our last morning a very pregnant  "Bob Tail" paid us a visit.  With her missing tail she looks more like an overgrown bobcat than a lioness.

"Bob Tail" 

After the project, we spent 3 days exploring Etosha National Park on our own.  The park is dominated by the immense Etosha Pan visible from space!  In the language of the Ovambo tribe Etosha means "great white place".  This natural mineral pan was first formed over 100 million years ago. About 16,000 years ago, the Kunene River in Angola would have flowed all the way to Etosha, forming, a large and deep lake. But the river would later change its course due to tectonic plate movement and head for the Atlantic, causing the lake to slowly dry up and leaving the salt pan behind.

Peggy on the Pan

The first afternoon we visited one of the public waterholes.  To our surprise, a breeding herd of elephants came in.  We enjoyed watching them at close range.  As we were leaving another herd came down the road.  We backed up but could only go so far.  We watched with held breath as they drew closer and closer.  Marc didn't want to start the truck and startle them so we held our ground.  They passed within 20 feet of us!  My heart was beating wildly, that was close, a little too close.

Too Close for Comfort!

Our next herd encounter was the following day at a waterhole called Halali.  The waterhole is fenced and the viewing is from some rocks about 20 feet above the waterhole so we were completely safe.  It was fun watching the interactions and a young bull dust bathing or trying to.  He kept blowing the dust in his eyes instead of on his back.

Dust gets in your Eyes

Despite the drought, the animals appear to be doing well.  There is still ample food in the park and water is pumped to numerous waterholes.  How such massive creatures, elephants, rhino, eland and giraffe can sustain themselves on dried grass and leaves is beyond me. Some of our favorite photos from Etosha National Park follow.

A Large Eland Herd Drinks at Mushara 
"Blond Mane"

A Gang of Giraffe
Male Steenbok

Black Rhino

Spotted Hyena

We are now heading north to the Kunene River on the border with Angola.  We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc.

No comments: