Apex ElephantI'm not certain what apex predator means. Yes, I know what we think it means, the top species (or sometimes single animal) in an ecosystem, determined, more or less, by the one animal or species at the top of the food chain. The animal that every other is afraid of. Sounds reasonable, not all that hard to determine, but.... Consider the elephant. Nobody ever says the elephant is an apex predator. For one thing, the elephant is vegetarian. Yet, not many animals are willing to mess with an elephant. Sure a pack of large cats will attack a youngster or an old guy, but other than that... I've recently been watching live video of a waterhole in Kenya. Certainly at that waterhole, elephants rule. It was the middle of the night, the camera was recording in infrared and I watched a single elephant - these are African elephants with long tusks - calmly drinking from the waterhole. A big maned lion crept up to the waterhole and lowered his mouth to drink. The elephant flapped its ears, that's all, and the lion retreated. This happened a second time and the lion snuck away thirsty. A mature male lion. The elephant didn't even turn toward the cat. The elephant went on calmly drinking as the lion had never been there. Another time, another elephant drinking, this time in daylight. The thirsty animal was a giraffe. Most of the other animals tolerate giraffes - they make good lookouts - and elephants seem to tolerate other animals - and this elephant had been sharing the waterhole with a herd of zebras earlier, but there was something between this elephant and this giraffe. The giraffe approached, got to the point where it was about to take a drink and the elephant once again flapped its ears. Just as with the lion, that was all it took. The giraffe backed off. But this giraffe must have been thirstier. It didn't back off all the way and even made another attempt toward the waterhole. Which seemed to irritate the elephant. I don't want to project human emotions into an animal, but this elephant sure acted irritated. It turned toward the giraffe. The giraffe backed away, further and further from the waterhole, the elephant turning to keep facing it all the time. Finally the elephant was facing away from the waterhole and camera as the giraffe disappeared into the trees. The elephant turned back to the waterhole, drank some more, and ambled off. Ambled off. Apex predator, no, but this elephant knew it was the top dog around those parts. There are times we think of ourselves, of humanity, as the apex predator. But without weapons and technology I'd rather be an elephant in Africa than almost any other animal.
24 Jul 2023
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