To me, and many others, one of the main attractions of being in the Okavango Delta was the huge numbers of elephants that roam the bush and roadsides in Botswana. Be it lone bulls or breeding herds, we would have elephants in camp on most days at Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp.
Shortly after we started managing the lodge we noticed that a lone female and a small calf were starting to become frequent visitors to the camp. A cow with a calf, away from the protection of the main herd, is very uncommon and to this day we do not know why she chose this solitary life.
During the first few months we were there, she was very protective of her baby who could not have been more than two or three months old. If any of us got too close she would turn and charge after us trumpeting in fury until we were at a respectable distance. Needless to say, when a fully grown elephant charges at you there are no negotiations – you get as far away from her as possible. We learnt to be aware of her location and stay away so as not to upset her.
In front of the main guest area of Xaranna Camp we had two huge Jackal berry trees which come into fruit in in the drier months. The fruit is delicious and a firm favourite in an elephant’s diet. It is really interesting to watch them feed on these berries as they are only about the size of a grape. The elephants would pick up one berry at a time until they have a few in their very dextrous trunk, they would then blow off the sand and toss them into their mouths like sweets.
With such wonderful delicacies at the lodge the female elephant and her calf became daily visitors. True to ritual she would tolerate us for a period and then charge until we knew our ‘place’. This would often happen while we were on the deck enjoying watching them feed. She would suddenly turn on her heel and charge at us – we were always at a safe distance but she needed us to know who was boss.
As with all children, the little calf was watching this interaction and learning from mom. It seemed to us that he started getting bored so would purposely get into situations that would make his mom ‘freak out’.
His favourite antic was to slowly walk underneath the deck (where we were standing) when mom wasn’t looking. She would then see that we were close to her baby and go ballistic as she couldn’t get to him and we were basically standing on top of him. He would then run out from under the deck with his trunk rolled up and his head down – it was very clear that he knew he was in trouble and she would chase after him. To all of us who witnessed this time and time again, it was like watching a naughty child purposely provoking mom, what youngster doesn’t love a good reaction?
From the main guest area down to the water we had a long jetty. This was a hindrance to elephants and they would break the wooden planks if they stepped on it (we fixed it regularly). Many elephants would walk around the jetty, and through the water to get to the other side rather than try to step over it. If they did try to cross the jetty it was hysterically funny to watch as they would straddle the jetty and try to get enough momentum by swinging a back leg to ‘jump’ over the jetty. Elephants cannot jump! The result would be a crash as their foot broke the planks and then them moving off in a hurry, trying not to look too undignified.
Our little elephant didn’t have this issue as he was not heavy enough to break the wood. So he would step onto the jetty and walk across it.
This is when he first noticed that there were strange objects on the jetty itself – beautiful white wooden hippo’s. The first day he noticed them he moved towards them but there was a step so he stretched out his trunk and sniffed these strange objects from a distance.
A few days later he casually walked up to the step (watching mom the whole time) and gingerly stepped up to the next landing. From here he realised that by doing so he could reach the wooden hippo’s. He gently touched the first hippo, really inspecting it. Someone made a comment that it looked like he was trying to be friends. If so, he was rejected as the next moment he shoved the hippo with his trunk and knocked it to the ground. He looked around after this defiant action and quickly went back down the jetty and joined mom on the other side.
After this triumph he returned again to the jetty, this time he walked up each step and knocked hippo after hippo to the ground. The only ones that were ‘safe’ were the last two which were on the top two steps. He then turned tail and sauntered off.
I wish I could say this was a once off act of rebellion but it was only the beginning, every time he came to the lodge he would assault the hippo’s and leave carnage in the form of toppled white hippos strewn in his wake. This is when he was dubbed – the little tyke!
As time went on Little Tyke became more and more mischievous and would often charge us which always resulted in him winning. Nobody wished to take him on and then mom get involved.
That is until he tried to charge my husband, Paolo. Having been a guide for over a decade he was not about to be pushed around by a baby elephant. Little Tyke only tried once…
One afternoon soon after this, Paolo was walking to the lodge from our house and Little Tyke came barrelling out of the bush at him. Paolo calmly turned towards Little Tyke and did the unexpected, he ran at him, clapping and shouting. What happened next will forever remain one of the funniest things I have ever seen in Botswana. Little Tyke stopped in his tracks, totally shocked, and then started reversing away from this crazy human. He reversed so quickly he tripped himself up and while stumbling he turned and ran away to his mom with a pathetic little trumpet.
To add insult to injury, his mom looked down at him and then at Paolo (who was now standing still) before turning back to the tree she was eating from and resuming her meal, ignoring him completely.
The next day, Little Tyke and mom were at the lodge and as usual he headed towards the jetty. As he was about to step on the jetty Paolo and I walked onto the deck as I had been telling him about the wooden hippo situation. Little Tyke stopped in his tracks and started sniffing below the jetty where we kept the poles for the mokorro’s (a traditional dugout canoe). He then grabbed hold of one pole and threw it as hard as he could, followed by another and another until there were none left. He then calmly walked across the jetty to his mom.
was extremely confused by the temper tantrum but Paolo was laughing. He was the last person to pack away the poles so they must have had his scent on them. This clearly upset Little Tyke and he wasn’t going to let Paolo have it all his own way.
After this Little Tyke stopped charging people, as did his mom.He did however continue to assault the wooden hippo’s until he was too heavy to walk up the jetty.