The Elephant and the Acacia Tree
Posted by Gail | Filed under Africa
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.