Baby Elephant at Tanda Tula in the Timbavati Game Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa - Photo credit: Chad Cocking
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Too Pee, or Not to Pee – That is the Question?

Chad Cocking | Wildlife

Now, before you start getting worried about the fact that this is my second blog story in a row dealing with the word “pee” in the title, there is as good a reason for it this time as there was last time!  In this instance, rather than being about my concerns for how a certain non-binary buffalo peed, it has to do with one of the recent encounters I had in the bush whilst wandering a little distance away from the game drive vehicle to go and ‘mark my territory’.

Buffalo urinating at Tanda Tula in the Timbavati Game Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa - Photo credit: Chad Cocking

For most guests, as foreign an idea as ‘going behind the bush’ may be to them, it is a far more comfortable option than having to deal with spending a couple more hours bouncing along in the back of vehicle regretting ones’ decision to have that extra cup of coffee in the morning!  When a guest wishes to have such a comfort stop, as guides we will find an appropriate tree (because contrary to popular belief, not all trees are lavatories). We then check that there are no unwanted critters in the area before letting the guests know that it is all clear and they can make themselves at home, so to speak.  Of course, when we as guides decide to do the same thing, we haven’t got anyone going to check the bushes for us first, so we must make sure that we choose wisely.  There was one time when I chose so wisely that I almost ended up peeing on the leopard that we had been tracking all morning without knowing he had chosen to rest in the very same bush that I was about to water!  Fortunately, he lost his nerve and broke cover before it got a bit messy, and in my excitement at having found a leopard, I quickly returned to the fetch the guests to tell them what I had found and forgot to do what I went to do!

Last week was one time when I evidently chose the wrong bush, but I only had myself to blame.  Stopping on an open sodic area for a sundowner, we had a herd of elephants feeding a couple of hundred meters off to our north, and there was one boisterous young bull running around about halfway between us and the herd, trumpeting to his heart’s content just to make sure that we knew he was there.  As he was a very young bull, I wasn’t particularly perturbed by his presence and decided to go micturate (it’s just a fancier way of saying “pee”) behind one of the few trees in the area, which just happened to be in the direction of this young elephant.  Comfortably behind the tree now, and with a good view of the elephant some 70m off, I began to complete the task at hand and watched as the elephant continued to run around trumpeting.  Despite the fading light the young bull then must have noticed me and being quite energised by whatever Mother Nature had added to his water that morning, he came running across the clearing at speed, trumpeting all the while.

Young Elephant at Tanda Tula in the Timbavati Game Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa - Photo credit: Chad Cocking

Usually, young elephants like this have very little confidence and the smallest form of dominance emanating from the chosen target is enough to cause them to stop, turn around and run with their tail between their legs (well, held out to the side in the case of an elephant, but that would make for a terrible idiom).  Thinking that simply stopping my business, stepping forward and clapping would elicit the desired response in the elephant, I did just that…the problem was, the elephant didn’t stick to his end of the bargain, and simply kept coming closer and closer!  My claps got a little louder, but he was having none of it and as he loomed ever closer at about 7-8m away, I really hoped that the balloon thorn (Vachellia gerardii) I was standing next to was going to be strong enough to stop this guy, and quickly side-stepped (some may argue it was more like I ran!) behind it.  It seemed to work and with a little bit of a barrier between us, he seemed to lose confidence and backed off slightly, but didn’t want to leave me alone.  Maybe it was the arrival of a laughing Glen that swung the odds in favour of the humans, and the elephant eventually continued on his merry and animated way back to join the herd. As Glen returned to the vehicle chuckling at the sight of Chad having to call off his ‘business’ whilst trying to convince an elephant not to come any closer, and then having to quickly make an evasive move behind a tree!

The worst part of the whole experience was not my damaged reputation, but that I couldn’t even finish my drink at our sundowner stop because I still had a partially full bladder. I didn’t want to risk embarrassing myself again by having to duck behind another bush just in case I couldn’t get a young elephant to stop its nonsense again.  At least I can console myself with the fact that last time around, I did manage to scare off a leopard without having to duck away…even if no one saw me in action that day!

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