Surprise at Chobe’s Elephant Valley

This is the third post from my recent trip to the Chobe.

Elephant Valley is about six or seven kilometres upstream along the Chobe river from Kasane. It is so called because of the frequency with which you are likely to see Elephant herds coming down to drink. The valley is created by a gap in the ridge along the Chobe. Of course, Elephant are not the only species which come down to drink there. It is a thirsty land at the end of spring while everything waits for the first rains. We often also see Baboon, Kudu, and sometimes Jackals drinking from this spot.

“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.”

Aaron Rose

The surprise was that we got to see Sable Antelope on two separate occasions at Elephant Valley. Many people pass this spot and never get to see Sable Antelope. Here are a few images from those two sightings. I know I put out a post on Sable before I went on this trip but these are my favourite antelope, perhaps because they have such usual colouring, look so majestic and are fearsome scimitar swordsman.

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On this occasion, we saw a small herd of young Sable which had come down to drink. They had to compete with the Elephants and of course size counts.

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The Sable steered well clear of the Elephants but that did not stop one young bull giving the young Sable a scare.

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Elephant Valley is a perfect ambush location for predators. Not that we have seen a kill in this spot but the vegetation on the sides of the shallow valley slopes are perfect ambush spots. The animals that come down to drink here know how dangerous this spot is and usually drink quickly and leave.

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“I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.”

~Ernst Haas

The Sable come down to drink in a small herd which gives them more ears and eyes to scan for danger.

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The Sable are skittish. They are well aware of their vulnerability in this spot, so when one of their own spooks the rest jump.

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Invariably, they do not wait to find out what gave them a start but just galloping away from that immediate area.

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These Sable were thirsty so they did not go too far but far enough to get out of possible harms way. After the immediate dash, they stopped and turned around to assess what is going on. Sable are grazers and browsers but all the Elephant in the park have destroyed much of the bush adjacent to the river so the gazers must move some distance away from the river to find food. They are therefore usually very thirsty when they arrive at the river.

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“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.”

Le Corbusier

You can see the ambush spots all around them and so they stand equidistant from each of the bush clusters. This tells me they are acutely aware of the dangers around them and are continually measuring their options.

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This group seems to work in a co-operative way. They all looked out in different directions.

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One of the advantages of moving in a small herd is that you can post sentries to keep an eye out for danger while the others have their heads down drinking.

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It does not take much to startle them and they are off.

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On this particular occasion it was a Black-backed Jackal which startled them. After a short gallop, they stopped and returned to crowd the Jackal away from that spot. They were not afraid of this small irritation. The real issue is that the Jackal’s yelping can alert larger predators to the Sables’ whereabouts.

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Sable, like many antelope, are very wary of drinking directly from the river. They all know that the river is seething with crocodiles. It is in this context that it is unusual to see a Sable kneel down next to the water’s edge to drink. Crocodiles strike very fast from their unseen underwater attack positions and a kneeling Sable would probably not be able to get away fast enough.

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

~Diane Arbus

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As you can imagine there are many scents wafting around this drinking place. One particular scent on this piece of driftwood caught this young Sable’s attention

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“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”

~Alfred Stieglitz

Sable have unusually large eyes. They are diurnal, but I am not sure whether they have especially good night vision.

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This Sable which had moved away from the group got spooked and ran away from the water’s edge on a number of occasions. Time and time again it would trickle back down to the water’s edge to drink.

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“Light, that first phenomenon of the world,
reveals to us the spirit and living soul of this world
through colour.”
~ Johannes Itten

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Confidence and safety in numbers.

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Some of these young Sable were starting to get their adult colouring. Their coats were changing colour from a reddish-brown to jet black. Another indication of their age is the curve of their horns. The horns of these youngsters were not especially curved so I think they were young adults. The curve in the female’s horns is not a full as the male.

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The Sable’s horns are lethal weapons and their ability to use them would impress any swordsman. They are quite capable of impaling an attacking lion.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
~Albert Einstein

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

3 thoughts on “Surprise at Chobe’s Elephant Valley

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