The Elephant and the Acacia Tree

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One of the most wonderful things about traveling is all the new stories you have to tell when you get back home. Today I begin my Africa series. The seeds of many of these stories germinated while Alex and I were travelling in Tanzania. I didn’t write while I was away; I was too busy absorbing. But I came home with loads of ideas to share with you. And I’ve included some of the pictures we took along the way. Enjoy.

One of my favourite stories is the The Elephant and the Acacia Tree. It’s more like a stout bush, really. But look at the size of those thorns. In Jamaica we call thorns “maca” as in, “Lawd, look pon dis, the maca juk mi.” But I digress.

The thorns of the Acacia tree developed as a defense mechanism against greedy giraffes. (I’ll have another story about this later.) But elephants have found a way to put these prickly trees to work for them.

Africa is a dry land and grass is at a premium. With herds of herbivores grazing on anything available, a patch of fresh grass is a rare treat. Since elephants cannot digest cellulose, they spend about three quarters of their day – and night – finding, choosing and eating food… up to 200 kg a day. Anywhere from 30-60% of an elephant’s diet is grass, when they can get it.

As we were driving along on safari, we noticed a number of uprooted Acacia trees. Seemed odd. Who would get close enough to all that maca to uproot it? Turns out, elephants have no fear of those thorns. Their incredibly thick skin and strong trunks are more than a match for all that maca.

So what was up with the upside down trees?

Well, elephants being the resourceful creatures that they are, uproot acacias and turn them upside down. No one else has the temerity to tangle with the thorny tree and so there it remains. The grass grows beneath it until at some future point the elephant circles back and moves the prickly barrier to nosh on the fresh growth beneath it.  Smart.

You wouldn’t think elephants were actually smarter than people, would you? And yet, here we have elephants that are planning for the future. They have devised a strategy of protecting patches of fresh grass. And they know enough to circle back to reap their reward.

Planning ahead is a key skill in being successful at life. Looking into the future –seeing beyond today – is key not only to surviving but to thriving. Elephants do it. You should too.

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Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade wants YOU! Join MyMoneyMyChoices.com to get smarter about your money and help others get smarter about theirs. Isn’t it time we eliminated financial illiteracy? Come find me on Google+ and on Twitter.

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15 Responses to “The Elephant and the Acacia Tree”

  1. avatar Christine Says:
    January 15, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Very good story!

    I loved it

  2. Very true.
    Looking forward to more Africa stories and pictures.

  3. Animals are so intelligent. Prince William has set up a trust to protect them and is quite passionate about it since his baby boy has arrived. They are poached for tusks, which is tragic and impacting in a terrible way their populations.

    Thanks for sharing such a great story Gail!

  4. Thanks Gail! This just proves that it’s not only survival of the strongest, it’s also survival of the smartest!

    If anyone wants to read more about elephants, there is a great book called The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy (Canadian author) that tells a fictional story about an elephants life in Africa. Although fiction, much research went in to tell the story of how elephants live. Incredible creatures.

  5. avatar Sheila Reynolds Says:
    January 15, 2014 at 9:14 am

    So I guess the financial advice today is ” flip your maca tree.” Great story, Gail!

  6. Great story! I’ve been fortunate to travel to Africa (Namibia and South Africa) several times and I’m always in awe of the animals and the beauty of the countries I visit. The animals are truly magnificent! We can learn so much from them.

  7. LOVE this story Gail! Travel and a financial lesson all rolled into one – beautiful!

    @ Sheila – I love that “Flip your maca tree” LOL. That’s what I am trying to work on this year – finally flipping my maca (big thorny item called DEBT) so that we can enjoy the green ($) later! :)

  8. I too like the story, but I can’t help but thinking it’s for the wrong audience. Honestly Gail, you’re supposed to be helping people feel better about themselves, get out of debt, and position themselves in a better financial position. That usually means not doing certain things, such as take a trip to Africa. I understand you have all your ducks in a row, your emergency fund was topped up before you went, and of course your RRSPs are all in place. But for the majority of your readers, that’s not the case. This whole article just seems very insensitive to me, and I’m not buying the little financial moral that’s been tied into it.

  9. @bryan I disagree with you. I believe it helps to show people if they take care of their finances they too could live a life like Gail. She has worked her way to this stage and deserves to share the good and the bad. That’s half the problem in today’s society everyone is so afraid of hurting others feelings by stating the good things they have accomplished. Plus the moral of the story is very true.
    I am far from debt free, read Gail’s blog daily and really enjoyed the story and did not find it insensitive at all.

  10. the comments about todays blog have been on my mind all day.
    I have my own Acacia tree and its called the TFSA. the money goes in and doesn’t see the light of day again being all covered with thorns so if the need arises the money will be there waiting. I think the whole idea of someone giving us the magic bullet to financial freedom is not there. other than knowing what is important to you and how you want to reach your goals and have some fun, the answer is always the same. spend less than you make, carry no debt, save something for emergencies and plan on having some fun . you can have lots of money in the bank but its important to have a little fun along the way. I have never been a high wage earner but have always been a saver. am on pension now, CPP and OAS getting net less than $20,000 per year, now if anyone wants to live on that small amount later when you retire, that is ok. its difficult but it is being done by me in my own house. the whole point is to enjoy your life whatever the circumstances but know what you want and make a plan on getting where you want to be. money is a serious subject whether you have a little or a lot, but it boils down to this. you still need to know what it is you want. and then work towards that. make room for fun so that you can make some memories like Gail is doing, even if its not on the same scale. life is short and the older you get, the faster the time goes by. take the money, or lack of it seriously, but don’t get obsessed about it.
    so everyone has their own Acacia tree. I plan on cramming in more fun, and to continue saving a little at a time, no debt and piece of mind.

  11. Great article, looking forward to more!!

  12. I really appreciate Ed’s comment. Great perspective! Thanks!

  13. Great story, I love elephants! Especially the mothers – how they tend to the village, not just their own. I appreciated the message from Ed – very wise counsel. Looking forward to more stories, Gail. Love your shows, your blogs, your advice, and your firm but caring momma bear smackdowns.

  14. Can’t wait to read more blogs from your vacation. Sounds as if you and Alex really enjoyed yourselves. I have listened to your podcast on 1010 and you have talked about the joys of this trip that I feel I was there with you.
    Elephants have always been my favorite because they are so dam smart.

  15. Your article is very interesting, but I would like to see more photos about it.
    I am an admirer of you, you are a clever person!!!

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