ROMANCING THE BUSH
The late afternoon sun hangs lazily in midair, reluctant to embrace the long shadows of evening. In this land of constant movement, the breeding herd rumbles gently, welcoming the cooler breeze of evening which softens the continual humidity that hangs heavy before the first rains. Their earlier dust bathing accompanied by social activities such as trunk entwining and sparring between the young bulls helps the elephants to renew their deep connection with each other with unblemished optimism. The thick coating of dust which they have thrown over a covering of mud from an earlier wallow will help to keep parasites like biting flies and ticks at bay. Like quiet shadowy spirits, they weave through the bush, their long trunks with the finger-like lobes never still, as they munch their way into the dark. Pausing slightly, heads tilted, they listen to the silence shredding cacophony of the cicadas and crickets, while squadrons of mosquitoes dive bomb in a relentless attack on their quest for blood.
The large elephant bull, magnificent in his stance, his creamy tusks protruding like scythes, shadows the elephant cow. His noble head is held high, large weathered ears fanned out and the constant dribbling of urine that has a distinct sharp odour is a sign that he is in musth. He is in a psychological and physiological state of heightened sexual excitement. His levels of testosterone can be up to 60 times higher than normal. The secretion of Temporin flows from his the temporal glands on the side of his head. He watches the cow with an amorous gleam in his wrinkled eye. On encountering this herd, he has moved from cow to cow looking for a mate. He has found this well rounded and strong young female by touching her vulva with the tip of his sensitive trunk. He then places his trunk tip onto a specialised taste gland, ‘The Jacobson’s organ’, which is located on the roof of his mouth. When a cow is in oestrus, her urine contains a pheromone which he finds alluring. And so, the magic of nature begins.
These two magnificent and sentient creatures of the bush flirt and tease. Entwining his trunk with hers and feeling her mouth gently has lured the strong young cow into adulthood. He has earned this right to mate by competing and chasing off younger bulls. For the moment, he is the lord of the land. He is approaching 35 years of age and is an experienced bull. He started producing sperm between 12 and 14 years old. However bulls rarely get to fathering a calf until they have reached their adulthood, which is anything from 25 years upwards. Even then, they are chased off by bigger and stronger males. The sturdy young cow who is approaching 15 years old and desperate for new whispers of life gives herself over to his ardent attention. He drapes his trunk across her back, testing her receptiveness. She does have a choice, and could move away. The bull mounts her, placing most of his weight on his strong back legs. His penis is S shaped, up to a meter in length and highly muscular. It will find and enter the vulva without him thrusting. His testes are located up near his kidneys, and up to a litre of semen can be ejaculated.
At peace with the rose coloured dawn, the mating pair remain close. As these two giants continue to romance on natures’ grandest stage, their copulations are accompanied by much excitement and agitation by the rest of the herd. He will continue to cover her for anything up to a week, keeping a jealous eye on any other males. He might stay close to the herd in the hopes of covering another female, or he will lumber away into the deep stillness of his solitary life.
The pulse of life will continue to throb after the glory has faded. She will give birth after 22 months, assisted by the females in her herd. How amazing is the cycle of life? In this land of extremes, us humans hold the destiny of these wonderful creatures in our hands. LET US ENSURE that this cycle of life continues.