A lot has been made about the impact elephants have on the landscape. Certainly there are parts of the Kruger National Park where the impact of elephants can’t be ignored. Particularly in winter elephants will resort to bark stripping and pushing over trees to get to their roots as a way of supplementing their diet.
During our natural history shoot in June 2011 we came across five bulls intent on changing the landscape around Satara Rest Camp. It was early morning just before sunrise when we came across the group. The noise of trees creaking and splitting before they finally gave in and crashed to the ground filled the still air. One of the elephants decided that a tree next to the road would be his next victim. Slowly he lent against the trunk for the tree and with what appeared to be very little force at all, proceeded to knock it over. He then spent about an hour moving the tree forward and backwards to get at the roots. At times it felt like he was playing with us, as he would constantly move the tree so its branches obscured our view. Once or twice moving the tree so close that the branches narrowly missed our cameraman perched on the back of the camera vehicle.
It was the contrast of the brute strength needed to push over the tree and maneuver it, with the precision and delicacy the elephants applied when using their trunks to strip the bark and dig at the roots that kept us captivated. The only disappointment was the number of cars at the sighting who got too close and refused to turn off their engines. As a result few of the tourists who watched these elephants with us got to hear the incredible sounds of elephants chewing, digging, breaking and stripping the trees.
© This video belongs to the Southern African Natural History Unit.