Friday, July 05, 2013

Life and Death at the Waterhole

Greetings All,
We are in Namibia's premier National Park, Etosha.  We are part of an elephant research team actually living at a waterhole.  We are assisting Caitlin O'Connell and Tim Rodwell in collecting data on the elephants that visit Mushara waterhole.  A camp complete with a 3-story tower had been set up.  That's our tent on the left of level 1 and home for the next two weeks. 

Marc Pointing to our Tent

One of our first duties was to take video and photographs of bull elephants visiting the waterhole. We have to record when a bull enters the clearing and from what direction.  The challenging part is to identify the bull from photos taken in previous years.  Thankfully, we had Caitlin to assist.  Elephants are identified by cuts, holes or slits in their ears, size of their tusks, hair on their tails, etc.

Mushara Bulls

Late one afternoon we were observing a large breeding herd of  cows, juveniles and calves.  Three young bulls came charging in from the west and scattered the herd.  In all the commotion, a young calf only weeks old got separated from her mother.  A young bull kicked her and she headed back toward the waterhole where only the older bulls remained.  She searched in vain among the giants but mom was nowhere in sight.  The bulls didn't quite know what to do.  We watched helplessly while imploring mom to return.

Baby and the Bulls

It seemed like an eternity but 45 minutes later mom, auntie and cousin came racing back into the clearing.

Help is on the Way
When they finally spotted her they rushed over and were reunited

Together at Last

We all breathed a sigh of relief including the old bulls or so it seemed as they sauntered off.  The calf started to nurse as if nothing happened.

What's all the Fuss About?

The next morning started off with a bang, Happy Fourth of July!   I peered out of our tent and a male lion and two lionesses were feeding on a freshly killed kudu not more than 200 meters away.  I dressed and went up above to watch what would happen next.  Another lioness with three cubs approached from the west and joined breakfast.  A large male with a dark mane came from the same direction and claimed the lions share of the kill.

Breakfast at Mushara

After their meal the lions lazed around with fat bellies while the cubs wrestled.

Cubs Playing

The only animal brave enough to approach the waterhole with the lions around was a lone black rhino.

Black Rhino

After the pride had demolished the carcass, they moved off and the opportunistic black-backed jackals moved in.

Jackals Moving In

In just three days we have already witnessed the life and death struggles that play out at the waterhole.  The abandoned elephant calf was reunited with mom and would live to see another day. The ambushed kudu died but would sustain the lion pride until their next kill.

Here are a few more photos of visitors to the waterhole.


Oryx Sparring

We hope everyone had a Happy Fourth of July.  Stay tuned for more stories about living at a waterhole in the African bush.
Marc and Peggy

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