Just who is in the cage….

Yesterday I made a trip to the Addo Elephant National Park – an hour out of Port Elizabeth.

Addo Entrance  Addo entrance

Travelling past a brickwork factory, I had to wonder if the road had been made out of the broken bricks from the factory – it was very bumpy indeed. Of course this was nothing like the road inside the National Park, where the animals wander in relative freedom and most of the roads are optimistically called ‘gravel’ roads, where in fact they are clay.

After registering at the main counter, I was somewhat surprised at entry cost, with 200 rand for foreigners being rather expensive I felt (50 rand for south African citizens). There was a map and some information given to customers. We wandered around the museum room, looking at the birds and animals that we would hopefully spy on our peregrinations. the toilets were rather minimal, with queues at both.

However out on the road in our little car. Beginning on a bitumen road, we travelled along, our eyes peeled for the slightest sign of animal life. In the morning time, there were not many sitings of the animals. they must keep asian hours I think… More luck once we moved onto the ‘gravel’ road.

We were of course kept into our cars the whole time. There are signs around the park. Dung beetles have right of way on the roads and of course one should not leave the car except at designated points – and even then only at one’s own risk.

Addo Dung sign   Addo Lion sign

So to the animals……

Dung beetles are quite large. They use the large balls of dung, left by elephants, to enclose their eggs. Once made into a ball, they then roll the balls of dung-eggs to the surrounding ground so that when the eggs hatch, the babies will be able to eat the dung balls to stay alive. Naturally Dung beetles only live where there are elephants! One example of how neatly Nature has a use for everyone. Cars are not allowed to run these beetles over – which can be difficult if you come across a lot of them

Dung Beetle on Barry's handAddo dung-beetle-with-ball

In the morning we also saw some warthogs and red hartebeest. It was amazing how quickly the animals could disappear without any trace. We humans of course leave much bigger marks of our presence on the environment.

We also came across several Kudu. The South African Nursery rhyme about them goes something like this…apologies for any errors

If you Kudu

What I Kudu

You could be a Kudu too!

These are truly magnificent animals….I guess they are a type of antelope. However unlike European antelope , they do not lose their horns. The horns on the male are placed closer together – supposedly to make them stronger for fighting. They also have markings down their sides, that – like fingerprints – are uniquely their own. these were probably the highlight of the morning’s trek.

Back for lunch at the restaurant. Apparently the South African franchise chain of restaurants known as Spurs, has been allowed to start setting up in the National Parks. this is a shame, as the restaurant here was excellent, with prices not far above those in town. Given that this is a tourist site – with no competition – it was good value.

However during lunch – and during the day, we saw a few birds, so I thought this was a good time to share the bird photos for the day. South Africa must be a bird-lover’s paradise. there are many indigenous birds and species of course from other countries. Here is a Hadeda Ibis ( Sacred Ibis), Egyptian Goose, Black-headed Heron, Francolin, fork-tailed Drongo (!), Egret and a couple of others that I can’t now identify.



During lunch I had an expected visitor – a little gecko, who did not even blink an eye when I took a photo from very close.


Then came the afternoon’s fun….

Having seen no elephants in the morning – ironic given that it is called the Addo Elephant Park, we lost count of these in the afternoon – conservatively we saw 50. These are of course magnificent animals. I was told that they have been known to pick up errant motor vehicles from under the rear bumpers and lift the cars up and roll them over. They do quite a lot of damage to the foliage and bark of the local fauna – there are monitored sites that have fences around them to gauge the difference between places where elephants go and those where they can not go. Needless to say we were a little careful around some of these animals – particularly when some of them were almost close enough to lean out and touch….reminder David, these are not tame pets… We saw herds, cowherds (herds of mothers), babies, large males and younger elephants. At one stage we moved very slowly(but quickly) when one mother looked sideways at us. Several males had musk in their eyes ( a warning sign), so it was better not to get to close to those. We only saw some flapping ears from afar and heard no elephant calls. These are but a small sample of the photos I took – working on the basis that if I took enough, SOME of them were bound to come out. My camera is pretty good, but sometimes I do wish I had an SLR camera…..

Another highlight of the day (both morning and afternoon) was seeing some zebra up close. These are Burchell’s Zebra – a little different from those further North, being slightly creamier in colour. We saw these first from afar and then later caught them up and then had to wait as they took control of the road ahead of us.

Talking about taking control….we also saw a herd of buffalo – they were lying down mostly, but shortly after we did see several that crossed the road ahead of us. Cars stayed well away from these dangerous creatures.

Buffalo    Buffalo

In the day, we also saw several other animals – relegated to a mixed album merely because I only managed to take one or two photos of them. They were a Meerkat, Black-backed Jackal (apparently mostly nocturnal, so we were fortunate), Leopard Turtle, millipedes (by the million!) and an ostrich (not photographed).


We also took time out to travel to the Zuurkop lookout Point, from where I took this panorama shot. This is a tiny percentage of the Park environs….

Addo - view from Zuurkop lookout

and this shot from the same lookout of the mountains in the distance. South Africa is a VAST country.

Addo - View from lookout

So what did we miss…? Well we missed the lions, that came out in the afternoon sun in the place we had been in the morning and the Black Rhinoceros and the Spotted Hyena along with several smaller animals that were on the list given to us. We thought we saw a Puff Adder Snake, but it “slitheryned” away before we were able to really see it properly.

My overriding impression of Addo, was that it was a wildlife reserve – one in which the animals are relatively free – almost as if in the wild. It is a very large area of land. we drove in the car ( slowly of course) for about 5 hours and did not see half of it. You need at least a day here to hope to see most of this National Park. However it is still a large zoo or cage. However if you look at these photos – taken on the day – maybe you will agree with me….at Addo, just WHO is in the cage…..?

About David Adlam

I am a conductor, composer, clarinettist and examiner for Trinity Guildhall working in Auckland, New Zealand and overseas
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