Tag Archives: African Elephant

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Taking our Elephant for a walk

Late one evening as we were slowly heading back to Marakele National Park’s Tlopi Camp with a few minutes left before gate closing time, we found our way blocked by a big herd of elephants, and I parked our vehicle a good distance away so that we could enjoy the sighting. While the herd were peacefully going about their business up ahead, suddenly a young elephant cow came charging at full tilt out of the bush right next to us!

I immediately turned the car around and drove off. After a few hundred metres I slowed down so that we could resume our more leisurely game-viewing pace, only to have the raging cow appear in the rear-view mirror again. This being repeated several times, it was startling to realise that she would not relent and in the end she chased us for over a kilometre – with Joubert snapping away these photographs – before she turned around.


Limpopo Ramble 2022: Mapungubwe’s Treetop Walk

One of the real treats of a visit to Mapungubwe National Park is the Treetop Walk through the riverine forest on the South African bank of the Limpopo River (Botswana is on the opposite side). Sadly the length of the elevated boardwalk was trimmed significantly by recent floods, but it still offers a wonderful glimpse into life in the tree canopy and an amazing opportunity to watch elephants from above if you are lucky to be on the treetop walk when a herd moves through on their way to the water.

Limpopo Ramble 2022: The Land of the Giants

In the Mapungubwe National Park, three aspects are truly iconic of this landscape: Elephants, baobabs, and rocky hills and cliffs. It’s as if the entire atmosphere of the Park hinges on these key natural attributes.

Mapungubwe, situated as it is at the place where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet, has a high population of elephants and especially so when the dry season concentrate the behemoths along the banks of the Limpopo River. From families of cows and tiny calves to enormous bulls can all be expected along any of the roads traversing the Park, and sometimes waiting for these charismatic animals to clear the way can be a very entertaining delay. At other times, the dense mopane veld may lead to you inadvertently finding yourself in the personal space of one of the giants and they might react with more than a little agitation!

The Elephants even move through Mapungubwe’s unfenced main camp Leokwe, as we experienced one evening upon arriving at out cottage.

Baobabs are the undisputable rulers of Mapungubwe’s plant kingdom. With this part of the world now firmly in Winter’s grip, the trees are mostly leafless, lending more credence to the myth that the Creator tossed them to earth, planting them upside down. Elephants have a paticular liking for the pulpy wood of the baobab, and many of Mapungubwe’s trees show damage as a result, leading to the Park authorities protecting some prime specimens by using wire as wrapping around their trunks (those of the trees, not those of the elephants 😉 )

On the largest scale of all, it is the rocky, hilly landscapes that really forms the basis of Mapungubwe’s ancient atmosphere. The hills are composed mainly of dolerite – the remains of molten rock pushed up from deep inside the earth through sandstone that has long since weathered away to leave only the harder volcanic geology visible.

Autumn Adventure – Elephants: Cape Vidal’s Highway Patrol

Over the years we’ve visited Cape Vidal, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, many times – our most recent visit was the twelfth time I had been there – but up until this latest visit we’ve only had one fleeting sighting of an Elephant there before. Seeing them so frequently this time around was therefore a real treat! It must be noted that the elephants roaming the shores of Lake St. Lucia have a reputation for cantankerous temperaments; this year January a family were lucky to escape without serious injury when a bull flipped their car on the main road leading to Cape Vidal, and so it goes without saying that we treat them with the utmost respect.

Soon after arriving through the Bhangazi Gate on the 23rd of March we took a detour along the Vlei Loop, where we had our first encounter with a herd of elephants emerging from a dense thicket into the road. Aside from one youngster who wanted to show off his menacing moves, this encounter went off calmly and without incident.

Where the Vlei Loop rejoins the main road we found a lone bull on his way to the iZindondwe Pan, and we couldn’t believe our luck!

After the bull walked off from his drink we got underway ourselves again, only to find the herd of elephants now also at the junction with the Vlei Loop. They were still very calm, though the older cows were keeping a vigilant eye on us, and we could watch them at leisure from our Duster. We especially enjoyed a youngster having a good scratch on a road marker! Eventually the matriarch gave the signal and the entire herd set off in the direction of Mission Rocks.

Well, we thought that it was the entire herd, but as we started rolling this frantic youngster came charging from the thick bush along the road. These “teenage” elephants can be real pranksters so there’s no telling whether he “ambushed” us or were really feeling lost having fallen behind the rest of his herd.

The next morning we were heading to St. Lucia town to stock up on groceries, and just after our picnic breakfast at Mission Rocks we found the herd blocking our way yet again. This time they were solidly laying claim to the road and we were not going to argue their right of way. Besides, elephants walking towards you always make better pictures than elephants walking away!

Eventually the herd reversed us back all the way to the Mission Rocks turnoff, and we thought that was a splendid spot to get out of their way and watch the parade pass in front of us.

What we didn’t know was that a portion of the herd decided to do some bundu-bashing and emerged from the forest immediately next to the spot we chose to watch their family members walk along the road. We very quickly had to start the car and get out of their way, because now THEIR way was blocked by US and they were not happy!

Once the road was clear ahead of us we could return to the junction. Looking right we could see the herd moving along in the direction of Cape Vidal, but as we turned left in the direction of Bhangazi Gate and St. Lucia town, we were stopped in our tracks again by two young stragglers chasing each other around.

Altogether we saw elephants 6 times during our 3 days on the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia. We felt really lucky, and know that next time we visit we’re going to recall all these encounters every time we pass the same spots.

Elephant herd blocking the road…again!

Autumn Adventure – First encounter with elephants at uMkhuze

While we’re on the subject of elephants; in four previous visits to the uMkhuze Game Reserve, an integral part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we’ve never seen the reserve’s elephants, despite them numbering around a hundred animals. Finally that unlucky streak was broken on the 22nd of March this year during our fifth visit. We had been following the drive back to camp from Nsumo Pan, dodging droppings and broken branches on a wet road, when first the matriarch and then the whole herd emerged out of the thicket into the road ahead of us.

The whole herd were quite relaxed with our presence. The whole herd that is, except one youngster. He sneaked out of the thick vegetation like a cat on the prowl, keeping his head low as he came running towards us, only to stop with head held high and ears widely spread, doing his best to intimidate us. We tried not to laugh in his face though, because one day he will be enormous and he might remember us…

Autumn Adventure – You “musth” give way to this giant!

Well, we’re back home in Pretoria after a wonderful two weeks exploring the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. Lots of stories to tell you in the coming weeks about our trip, and we’re going to start with a sequence of photo’s from yesterday’s drive through the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park to Memorial Gate on our way home.

By 07:30 we had made our way to within 3 kilometers of Hilltop Camp when we found our way blocked by a big male elephant in musth. “Musth is a periodic condition in bull elephants characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones” (wikipedia). To top it all this bull had a broken tusk and a sore on his face – even more reason for him to be agitated! Predictably this bull quickly showed us who rules in Hluhluwe – most of the following images were taken by Joubert as I had to concentrate on reversing downhill at speed for much of the half hour that followed.

A few minutes into the encounter a ranger arrived on the scene. Obviously he has much more experience in dealing with irate bull elephants and I would strongly advise against any visitors trying to play chicken with an elephant in such a mood like this ranger did…

With the ranger gone, the bull turned his attention to us again. Eventually he pushed us back about 1.5km to the start of the Mansiya Loop Road, offering us an opportunity to escape. Whether he chose to keep walking along the tar road, or exit onto the Loop road, we’d have an opportunity to pass.

The bull chose to stay on the tar road, so we used to Loop Road to get past him. As we rejoined the main road we could still see him slowly making his way up the hill.

Elephant bull in musth walking along the main road through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

For most of the rest of the way to Hilltop Camp his path of destruction could be seen as parts of trees and bushes littered the roadway.

Big branch lying across the road in the elephant’s wake

Marilize got this shot of Joubert taking pictures of the irate elephant bull with her cellphone.

Satara Summer 2021 – Admiration for Elephants

It is estimated that there are over 30,000 African Elephants in the Kruger National Park (SANParks annual report, 2020-2021, p48) and as a result visitors to the Park can bargain on regular encounters with these charismatic animals. That certainly was the case when we visited in December 2021, and as they are among our favourite animals you will hear no complaints from us.

Could there be anything cuter than a baby Elephant!? Judging by the number of tiny calves in each of the herds we encountered the Kruger Park’s Elephant population is very healthy and still growing!

There are few things in wild Africa as imposing as an Elephant bull

When encountering a bull Elephant in musth on the road, it is wise to give them a wide berth. In this state Elephant bulls are very irritable and down right aggressive, making for some exciting and memorable encounters. With their elevated testosterone levels these bulls simply ooze self-confidence and I simply love that assertive swagger that goes with it. On the 19th of December this bull made us reverse for quite a few kilometers along the H6-road between Satara and Nwanetsi.

It took only one mock charge from this musth bull we encountered along the very narrow and winding S147 Ngotso Loop to convince us to vacate his vicinity.

When bulls in musth meet they are bound to get involved in serious fights for dominance and mating rights. These bulls clashed just outside the Tshokwane Picnic Site – it is the roofs of the Ranger Post that you can see in the background of some of these images.

On Christmas morning, just a few minutes away from Nwanetsi, these two younger bulls provided great entertainment. They seemed to be in the throws of fighting, but one of the combatants kept trying to keep a tree between him and his adversary. It was funny seeing how the one would push down the tree only for the other to try and re-plant it between them before the argument would move to a different tree or bush where the whole sequence would be repeated. Eventually one’s nerves gave in and he tried high-tailing out of the area as quickly as he could, but the other would not have any of that and followed at speed.

Older bulls often carry very impressive ivory; long and thick. We are always delighted to see these icons of Kruger.

We encountered this particularly impressive one-tusked fellow on three separate occasions during our December 2021 visit to the Kruger National Park.

Some bull Elephants with notable tusks are given names by the Park staff. This is Kukura, a tusker first recorded in 2015 and monitored since then by the rangers and researchers in the Kruger National Park.


Sir Elephant

This young elephant, wielding his “mighty” branch like a medieval knight would his sword, gave us some great entertainment when Joubert and I visited the Kruger National Park last week. He intimidated us with his fierce strokes, and we yielded, but then an elderly couple in another vehicle did not pay him the necessary respect and he went into an even more brutal display for their benefit. Lucky for them he stepped on his own sword, and snapped it, so he stepped back into the long grass at the side of the road…

… where he picked up another branch just as the next vehicle – a campervan – drew closer.

Sir Elephant picking a new sword (photo by Joubert)

Most of these photographs were taken by Joubert

Surprise Weekend at Marakele; Baby Elephant Rescue!

We were still watching the herd of elephants calmly going about their business on the shores of the dam at Tlopi Tented Camp in Marakele National Park on Marilize’s birthday, when suddenly there was a tremendous uproar in the herd.

Cows were trumpeting in panic and rushing to a specific spot, while one particular youngster was screaming blue murder and running away from the same place as quickly as the grown-ups were approaching.

It quickly became apparent that a tiny baby had fallen down a small embankment and into the mud at the edge of the pool, struggling to get up. Within seconds the adult cows were lending either a helping foot or trunk and the baby was lifted to safety.

While we didn’t see how the baby ended up in the mud to begin with, from their reaction to the youngster that fled the scene earlier, and who was still screeching to high heaven but now circled back to the group of cows where they were soothing the upset baby, it was rather clear who the adult elephants thought carried the blame for the incident!

Summertide Diary: Elephant Processions at Addo

One of the most wonderful experiences one could hope to have in the Addo Elephant National Park is to sit at a waterhole while a herd of elephants arrive, often passing so close to your vehicle that it will take your breath away.