When an elephant won’t let go…

One of the most touching sightings of our recent Satara Summer in the Kruger National Park was of an elephant bull trapped in a shallow pan (waterhole) and unable to get out. Just how the bull ended up in this predicament was unclear as we arrived on the scene too late to know – perhaps it was simply something as benign as taking a mud bath gone wrong, or perhaps something as violent as a debilitating blow received in a fight for dominance. However it may have occurred, we spent several hours in the exceptional heat wishing him on every time he tried lifting his massive bulk out of the mud, watching with lumps in our throats as other elephant bulls, obviously distressed, tried to help and failed, how they had to give up on their valiant attempts, extending trunks towards their comrade as if in a final greeting. Eventually the hopelessness of his situation became too much to bear for us too and with every pause in his feeble movements we hoped that he has finally breathed his last, only to see the tip of his trunk being raised limply above the waterline once again, over and over. Why won’t he just let go..?

Dusk settled over the plains and we had to leave to get back to Satara in the knowledge that he was unlikely to see the sun rise tomorrow. Difficult as it was to watch, we realise that tragedies like this have played out in the wilderness for millennia, nature taking its course without human interference, as it should and will continue to do in places like the Kruger National Park, and whether we were there to witness it or not made no difference to the outcome.

 

39 thoughts on “When an elephant won’t let go…

    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      I’ve often wished the same, John. This post, like some others I’ve read and even posted over the years, don’t feel right to “Like” even when one appreciates the content immensely.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Having seen it all play out in front of our own eyes we totally understand your sentiments, Sue, as we felt exactly the same. In hindsight we find solace in the knowledge that this elephant passed naturally, having lived its entire life free of human interference.

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        1. de Wets Wild Post author

          I agree, Tracy. In fact it is very likely that it was either ill or injured as elephants love their mud baths and it is almost unheard of that they get bogged down – certainly none of the bulls that ventured into the pan to help had any difficulty moving.

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  1. Tranature - quiet moments in nature

    This is so very sad to witness. When there is an animal in distress in the National Parks over here we alert the rangers. They will always try and help to save the animal.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks for weighing in, Xenia. Our rangers only intervene when the situation was created or exacerbated by human interference or actions. In this case, in the absence of any indication that the elephant was in this predicament due to humans, nature should be left to take its course, as the elephant, even when it perishes, remains part of an extensive and intricate ecosystem and would provide sustenance to a host of other creatures and plants in the spot where it died. It just so happened that this spot was visible from a public road through the Park, but had it happened even a 100 meters further into the veld we humans would not even have known about the drama unfolding…

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  2. JANE

    I can’t bring myself to push the “like” button on this post. End of a life evokes sadness. However, for all who gave witness and put concern, care, and kindness into the spiritual space around the trapped elephant… it seems only certain that he knew he was not to die alone. His circle went unbroken. He was surrounded by loving elephants and humans.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thank you, Jane. We certainly hoped that in some way he found comfort in having others there, be it humans or elephants, which is why we also felt sad, almost guilty, at having to leave when darkness fell…

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  3. Anne

    Your photographs get smaller and smaller … it is a very sad scene yet you are right to be pragmatic about it. The stuck elephant may have been old or ill. What is touching is the way its companions rooted for him then bid him farewell.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thank you very much, Anne. The way the photos were arranged in the gallery does help convey a sense of a life slipping away (though I didn’t plan it that way). The photos should show up larger if you click on one of them and scroll through.
      It is always slippery ground to try and pin human emotions on animals, but to my mind there was no doubt that his “friends” we trying their best to help and then comfort him…

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Perhaps it’s because they’re such charismatic creatures that we felt such pity for the elephant. Whatever the cause, I am grateful that it wasn’t due to any human action. The elephant lived and died by nature’s design, and I can live with that.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Nature does seem cruel in our emotional eyes, Janet, and that made this episode so difficult to watch. That’s just the thing though – it only seemed cruel because we were there to watch it; had it happened somewhere further off the road no humans would have been any the wiser…

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  4. pam@ichoosethis

    This is sooo heartbreaking. In Alaska, we saw a bear cub lost from it’s mother – who was likely dead or had rejected the baby. It was one of the saddest days of my life. We had to let nature take it’s course and let it be. sniff sniff…Makes me cry to this day.

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