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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

Sept. 14 – Mussar for mammals

During our morning self-guided safari, we discovered a small man-made watering hole, an ecology experiment cooperatively sponsored by University of Cape Town and Princeton. Because of the severe drought, any water is a huge attraction, and this was no exception. The diversity of wildlife and their behavior were incredible to see from inside the safety of our car. We sat fascinated for about an hour while observing the laws of the jungle…and multiple Mussar lessons including honor, patience, humility and trust.

When we arrived, there was a herd of about 30 elephants drinking – male, female, teens and babies. Another group of about the same size stood in the distance, waiting.  Suddenly a huge, older bull elephant came out of the woods and crossed in front of our car. (Malcolm quickly and wisely backed up to give it wide berth.)  The elder approached the waiting group and led them to the water to join the others. Were they waiting for him out of respect? Fear?

Meanwhile a small group of zebras waited patiently nearby for their turn at the water. Three more zebras approached and joined the others. A herd of impala came down the hill, also waiting patiently. Three warthogs approached, and a jackal ran by, leaving immediately when he saw the queue.

Finally, his patience wearing thin, one of the zebras carefully came closer to the water. Although a number of the elephants had left, some were still drinking, and one turned toward the zebra. His body language was clear – not your turn yet.

These elephants were waterhole bullies!

When the elephants all finally meandered off, the zebras approached the watering hole. One seemed to stand guard as the others drank. Unlike the elephants, the zebras were willing to share the wealth, and the impala and warthogs joined them for a drink.  There is definitely hierarchy in the animal kingdom – and Mussar lessons to be learned.

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