The lonely African elephant finds comfort with heavy logger (South Africa)
Jane Flanagan, The Times
June 4, 2021
Africa’s loneliest wild elephant has found refuge in the company of heavy
machinery, footage captured in her remote forest range appear to show.
The cow, who is about 45 years old, can be seen pushing against the large
tyre of a logging machine in a forest in South Africa and settling down to
sleep next to it.
The female, called Oupoot, which means Old Foot in Afrikaans, is the sole
survivor of Africa’s southernmost elephant group, which retreated into the
vast forest of Knysna, about 300 miles east of Cape Town.
The glimpse into Oupoot’s solitary routine emerged from thousands of images
and videos during a 16-month infrared camera study by the South African
National Parks (Sanparks) organisation, which runs the reserves.
The last survey, in 2003, found evidence of five elephants. Researchers
noticed that the elephant ignored a tractor in favour of the logger, which
has suffered a string of punctured tyres from her tusks.
“We don’t know why she targeted the logging machine but wonder whether it
is because it has a boom that resembles a trunk,” Lizette Moolman, the lead
researcher for Sanparks, said.
In other clips, the elephant is seen wrestling with a gate and some of the
72 cameras set up to monitor her. She is also seen consistently with
secretions from the temporal glands behind her eyes, which some researchers
claim indicates stress or excitement.
While male elephants in the wild often spend long periods alone, a female
is always part of a large family group. It is thought that Oupoot is the
only African elephant to be living in forced isolation.
After observing film of her, Joyce Poole, the co-founder and co-director of
ElephantVoices, which works to spread knowledge of the creatures, said that
Oupoot “was lonely and seeking some sort of companionship”.
She added: “Elephants that have been rescued from zoos and circuses often
have attachments to sticks and tyres.
“These may be substitutes for the calves they have never had. The way in
which this elephant interacted with the machinery was almost as if it were
some sort of companion for her.”
A survey is being held to settle on the best remedy for Oupoot. Possible
interventions include moving a captive “tame” group, an orphaned calf or a
wild herd from Addo Elephant National Park almost 200 miles to the east in
Eastern Cape province.
No intervention would come without risk, however. Oupoot’s range in
Knysna’s national forest and private plantations is unfenced. Newcomers
could well venture beyond or fail to bond with her. In 1994, three young
females were brought in from the Kruger National Park, one of the largest
game reserves in northeastern South Africa.
They had to be moved to a private game reserve after five years, however,
because they refused to stay within the Knysna range.