When a giant falls

Text: Ranger Pieter van Wyk

Elephants can live up to 60 years, consuming about 200 kilograms of food everyday. But when they die a massive nutrient recycling process is unleashed. Even after death an elephant plays a pivotal roll within its ecosystem. The carcass will feed dozens of species ranging from maggots to lions. This dynamic afterlife played out in front of our eyes pretty much all week and it’s not over yet.

On Tuesday morning a solitary elephant bull was briefly viewed near Mlowathi Koppies by ranger Jacques Proust. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and the bull was showing no obvious signs of discomfort. Thus, it came as a surprise when he was found dead just a few hours later. The ivory trade is rampant across the continent but not in this area. Nonetheless one’s first reaction these days, sadly, is to assume foul play even though the elephant’s tusks had not been removed. Sure enough it soon became clear that this animal had not died at the hands of humans. The state vet was called in and she tested for diseases. The carcass was initially fenced off to keep predators from potentially infecting themselves and rangers stood guard over the ivory at three-hour intervals. Anthrax was on the cards but blood tests eliminated it as a suspect. The finger was then pointed in the direction of encephalitis myocarditis, which elephants can get from mice. The tusks were eventually removed for security reasons, then the fence came down and nature was allowed to take its course.

Since then we’ve viewed the Kambula pride with 2 of their cubs, a Gowrie male, an unidentified young male lion, several hyenas and a multitude of vultures feed on the carcass.