Times (UK)

Jane Flanagan,
June 4, 2021

See link for photo.

Africa’s loneliest wild elephant has found refuge in the company of heavy machinery, footage captured in her remote forest range appear to show.

The cow, who is about 45 years old, can be seen pushing against the large tyre of a logging machine in a forest in South Africa and settling down to sleep next to it.

The female, called Oupoot, which means Old Foot in Afrikaans, is the sole survivor of Africa’s southernmost elephant group, which retreated into the vast forest of Knysna, about 300 miles east of Cape Town.

The glimpse into Oupoot’s solitary routine emerged from thousands of images and videos during a 16-month infrared camera study by the South African National Parks (Sanparks) organisation, which runs the reserves.

The last survey, in 2003, found evidence of five elephants. Researchers noticed that the elephant ignored a tractor in favour of the logger, which has suffered a string of punctured tyres from her tusks.

“We don’t know why she targeted the logging machine but wonder whether it is because it has a boom that resembles a trunk,” Lizette Moolman, the lead researcher for Sanparks, said.

In other clips, the elephant is seen wrestling with a gate and some of the 72 cameras set up to monitor her. She is also seen consistently with secretions from the temporal glands behind her eyes, which some researchers claim indicates stress or excitement.

While male elephants in the wild often spend long periods alone, a female is always part of a large family group. It is thought that Oupoot is the only African elephant to be living in forced isolation.

After observing film of her, Joyce Poole, the co-founder and co-director of ElephantVoices, which works to spread knowledge of the creatures, said that Oupoot “was lonely and seeking some sort of companionship”.

She added: “Elephants that have been rescued from zoos and circuses often have attachments to sticks and tyres.

“These may be substitutes for the calves they have never had. The way in which this elephant interacted with the machinery was almost as if it were some sort of companion for her.”

A survey is being held to settle on the best remedy for Oupoot. Possible interventions include moving a captive “tame” group, an orphaned calf or a wild herd from Addo Elephant National Park almost 200 miles to the east in Eastern Cape province.

No intervention would come without risk, however. Oupoot’s range in Knysna’s national forest and private plantations is unfenced. Newcomers could well venture beyond or fail to bond with her. In 1994, three young females were brought in from the Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in northeastern South Africa.

They had to be moved to a private game reserve after five years, however, because they refused to stay within the Knysna range.