September 10, 2014

The mystery of the Elephant skull

The EcoTraining Makuleke camp in the Northern part of the Kruger Park gets very regular visits from the elephants in the area. The students have witnessed some strange behaviour over the last few days.
"On the 7th, September, the day after student arrival we had a few elephants come into camp.  One, who was nicknamed Dave by students many years ago and who is very recognisable due to his size, only 1 tusk and 1 damaged ear, came in and wandered around camp like he usually does, casually feeding. On the perimeters of camp we could see another younger elephant, and we assumed he would stay a bit further out.  Dave’s ‘mates’ are often not as relaxed as Dave and keep their distance from the camp.
However on this day, this young elephant made a beeline for the Study Deck area, where Bruce (headinstructor at Maukleke Camp) stores a very old elephant skull, which he has used over the years to demonstrate the brain cavity location and the brain size as part of Trails Guide/ARH lectures.
This skull was left to us by Jack Greeff, who was the anti-poaching/security manager for the Makuleke Concession for many years.
When the skull was first bought to camp it attracted the attention of visiting elephants.  It was being stored at the side of the rear storage shed and in the middle of the night, our instructors were woken by elephants and a lot of irregular noise.  The following day, instructors went to the storage area to see if any damage had been done by the elephants, to find that the elephant skull was missing.  They went searching and found it some distance from camp, out past the outer firebreak and to the east of camp.
The elephants must have dragged it, pushed it, rolled it, somehow, moving it over this distance.  At this stage, the skull was still intact, as Bruce had not yet cut it in half, to highlight the brain cavity. The skull was retrieved and returned to camp.
On this day, the younger elephant walked over to the study deck, came up close to the railing, looked around and then moved direct to the skull.  He pulled it away from the deck with his trunk, stood some time, smelling it, turning it over, touching it and then finally proceeded to stand on it with one foot and gently crush it.
Once some of it was crushed, he picked up small pieces of skull that were now crumbly and powdery and started to toss it over himself with his trunk.  He then crushed it some more and repeated the process several times.
It was amazing to see and Bruce and I just stood on the deck, mesmerized, watching him.  It was only when other people on the deck moved, that he looked up, left the remains of the skull and moved away.  He stood hesitantly for a while, seemingly undecided, and then moved away.
A humbling sight to experience for everyone."

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