The rains have been blessing our reserve abundantly lately and many parts of South Africa and it’s not gone unnoticed by the elephants!

On this walk in the bush, the herd take great advantage of the mud beneath their feet. Klaserie, Setombe, Mambo and Sebakwe in particular enjoy the glorious cooling mud on this rainy morning in the reserve. The covering of mud provides much-needed protection against parasites and the suns’ burning ultraviolet rays.

Take a look in the video above at just how large domainant bull, Sebakwe is compared to the other elephants! You’ll spot Kumbura and Klaserie with Khanyisa too!

Research conducted by Michal Milinkovitch, a University of Geneva Evolutionary Biologist & Biophysicist, has laid bare some of the secrets behind the African elephant’s amazing ability to keep cool. Using microscopy (a microscope) and computed tomography (CT scan) to study sections of elephant skin in the tiniest detail revealed an intricate network of micrometre-wide crevices. During bathtime, these crevices fill with water and mud and, whereas we humans would be almost instantly dried by the burning African sun, this allows elephants to remain cool until the next waterhole.

The network of crevices, too small to see without the use of a microscope, give the thick, wrinkled elephant skin the ability to absorb and retain enormous amounts of water. A bit like being covered in blotting paper.

Khanyisa, in May 2020, exploring the world of mud on a walk in the reserve.

In this video above, filmed by Elephant Manager, Tigere, Mambo and Jabulani both indulge themselves in some blissful mud-time, lying their stomachs down across a muddy wallow with the rest of the herd. Lundi, Tokwe, Somopane… all the elephants get their feet well submerged as they take advantage of this natural coolant and protection from parasites and UV rays.

The African elephants’ skin is particularly adept at retaining this mud shield as the millions of micro-metre wide cracks help the mud to remain in place. It most definitely looks like they’re having fun but when an African elephant takes a mud bath or a dust shower they are performing an age-old ritual without which survival would be extremely unlikely. Mud-wallowing and bathing is practised by many ‘follicly challenged’ animals besides the elephant, such as African buffalo, rhino and warthog.

A rhinoceros enjoying the benefits of a mud bath.