South African wildlife – Elephant encounter

By Ed Yong | November 1, 2009 9:40 am

We had numerous elephant sightings on our South Africa trip including a few family groups and a couple of lone males. Seeing them in documentaries or in zoos never quite captures just how big and impressive they are in the flesh, especially when they do things like beat up a tree. Note how this male uses his tusks and trunks to break off branches.

Also note how quiet it is except for the breaking of branches. Elephants may look like lumbering beasts, but their footfalls are dainty and quiet. They are ‘digitigrade’, meaning that they walk on their toes like a cat or a dog. Their heels rest on a spongy cushion that gives their foot its flat, round appearance – they’ve essentially got the world’s largest platform shoes. And that means that walking elephants make precious little noise. You could watch a group disappear behind a bush about 10 metres away and have absolutely no idea that they were there.

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