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Ozzie on Fire Again

Mushara Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia — Ozzie was on fire again Thursday, parting a sea of 14 bulls with his parade of musthy pomp until he reached his target—Mike.

Mike is one of the largest bulls in our study population, and also one of the least aggressive. Why was he the focus of the young Ozzie’s aggression? I can only assume that, with so many individuals to choose from, he somehow knows Mike is the biggest potential threat out there as this is the time when Mike is normally in musth himself. How could he know this? Past experience? Or smell, perhaps?

In the past, when the largest, most dominant musth bull, Smokey, swept through the area, he definitely knew when Ozzie had been through. He’d trace his exact path from a previous day, trunk curling and prancing in objection, while all the while dribbling urine madly. But, Ozzie was always one day ahead of the competition which could explain how he got away with being in musth younger than expected, and at half Smokey’s age and stature.

Ozzie’s dustbath is like the rattle of sabers. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Ozzie’s dustbath is like the rattle of sabers. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

 

Ozzie took a break from his torment of the waterhole to take a purposeful dust bath. When I say purposeful, I mean that he incorporated dusting into his musth signaling ritual by grabbing dust with the end of his trunk, curling his trunk across his face in a classic musth trunk curl, and then dropped the dust mid-curl so that it fell like a curtain over his face. He then vigorously waved each ear forward, one at a time, and began again. After a while, he’d come back to scatter the others again.

When he confronted Mike, Mike seemed to be taken off guard. What is this? This little bull couldn’t really be serious. And with that, Mike proceeded to make the same mistake as Prince Charles, Abe, Luke and Jeff before him. The mistake of thinking that this little bull couldn’t possibly be a threat and engage him in a little discipline—to learn the gentlemanly rule that in a normal population with plenty of fit older bulls out there, bulls only attempt to go into musth in their mid-twenties, not their mid-to-late teens. This is where Mike made his mistake and a clash of titan versus possessed young rebel ensued.

 

Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

 

The intensity of the battle caused Mike to empty his bowels and take off, with Ozzie hot on his heel—a chase that continued past the tree line with intense rare roaring and bellowing, which I had hoped didn’t mean that Mike got a swift up-curved tusk to the flank.

Ozzie is indeed on fire again this season and it’s hard not to wonder if the absence of the dominant bull, Greg, aka, the don, hasn’t caused a void filled by this demon, only to be corrected with the initiation of a new don. Until that time, we will enjoy the fire and continue to collect defecations to make sense of individual hormone patterns from season to season.

 

my students, Carrie Von Muench from Stanford and Natalie St. John from Virginia Tech collecting fecal samples. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
my students, Carrie Von Muench from Stanford and Natalie St. John from Virginia Tech collecting fecal samples. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.