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  • Writer's pictureBushwise

Smoke but no fire……

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

What a treat it is to begin the week by observing the giants of the savanna feeding. While this is a commonplace experience for us here on Makalali Game Reserve, we never forget how privileged we are. It’s pretty amazing to think that elephants need to consume 5-6% of their body weight in plant matter each day in order to maintain condition. This translates as a big elephant bull easily consuming 300kg daily.


Observing their feeding behaviour was easy for the students, but identifying the tree and grass species the elephants were feeding on, justifiably proved a little more difficult. We are currently in the middle of a severe drought here in the Lowveld, and to top this off, we are also at the end of the dry season. These factors combined mean we have very few trees with leaves and no grass at all. However our expert trainers still ensured the students were introduced to numerous trees during our Botany & Biomes Week, although grasses remain a challenge for now.

Students were also made aware of the many interesting traditional uses and beliefs connected to each tree e.g. the Tall Firethorn Tree was a popular choice of the Bushmen for making fire by friction. Simple…………or is it? While the botanical name Commiphora pyracanthoides subsp. glandilosa (pyro being the Greek word for fire) was a mouthful for some, the Afrikaans name – Kanniedood, meaning can’t die – was more manageable and of great interest.  Old time farmers favoured the branches of these trees as fence posts because they are so light in weight and are easily cut. However, after only a week or two of planting these posts, branches started to show new growth, hence the name Kanniedood.


Full of gusto and self-belief, students made sure to take some Kanniedood wood with them on our sleepout and create fire by friction. It wasn’t long before there was smoke and lots of hope. But smoke and hope weren’t enough to produce a flame and a newfound respect was born for our primitive ancestors and Bushmen. We were faced with two choices, continue in vain and risk being without food and heat for the night or graciously give in and produce matches or a lighter……………Food went down well and we were nice and toastie in our sleeping bags ready to sleep under the stars for the night.


Whilst trying to sleep, a lion was keen to remind us that he is still king. His roars echoed every now and then from the hillside into our souls, while the distant laughter of the spotted hyena distracted us from the king on other occasions. Also competing for attention was a leopard, whose rasping sound was drowned by the blunt grunting of hippos not too far away. By some, the lion, hyena, leopard and hippo are viewed as having more gravitas than the imperiled African wild dogs, but not by us. The highlight of our adventure-packed week was without doubt watching a pack of Painted Wolves proudly show off its patchy-pelted puppies to us. Our excitement was truly palpable.


Finally, we wish all students good luck in their Botany & Biomes test this past Saturday and hope they now know the difference between a spine and a thorn…

Until next week,

Gerhard & the Bushwise Team

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