Late in May 2019, we spent a wonderful morning slowly driving up to the Babalala picnic-spot along the road which meanders along the Mphongolo River past Sirheni bushcamp.
For the entire 31 km length of the loop road, we experienced literally hundreds of thirsty elephants chaotically competing for water at the few pools left in the quickly drying river bed, accompanied by loud trumpeting amid huge dust clouds. This will feature as a separate story in a future blog episode.
After enjoying being able to stretch our legs at Babalala and chatting with others that had also had a similar experience that morning, we decided to drive back down to camp at Shingwedzi on the same road we had come.
Of course the drive back entailed nervously threading our way through an almost endless succession of elephantine roadblocks – the herds had moved away from the water and were now foraging in the riparian forest through which the road meanders.
We spotted a smallish herd of eland in the river bed to our right, wanting to leave the river bed in our direction. They were pretty well spooked by the many elephants in the vicinity and thus very nervous. As they had noticed us, the eland milled around on the river bank for a while and then disappeared into the thickets slightly ahead of us. We had also stopped, as there were elephants in the vegetation on either side of the road a little way ahead of us, and I didn’t want to drive on until I had assessed their general demeanour and intentions.
There was suddenly lots of loud trumpeting and the sound of heavy bodies crashing through the vegetation coming from the general direction of the thickets where the eland had previously disappeared into. This heralded the entire eland herd thundering out of the vegetation in single file and galloping over the road in front of us. The first shot I could get in was an instinctive shot of the lead eland as it took off mid-road in a magnificent leap into the Mopane bushes lining the left verge of the road.
The remainder of the herd followed in short order, racing over the road – not one of them bothering to attempt to entertain us with another one of those giant leaps which they are so famous for.
During our traditional “post-mortem” sundowner drinks on our bungalow’s veranda later that afternoon, we could clearly see on the laptop screen why the lead eland had been able to jump so high and far.
It had grown wings – proof enough that eland do in fact drink “Red Bull”!