Tag Archives: African Elephant

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.

Summertide Diary: Hyenas versus Elephant

Yesterday we promised you more photos of the fascinating interaction between the Spotted Hyenas and Elephant at Hapoor Dam in Addo Elephant National Park, and here they are.

When we arrived on the scene, the hyenas were quite far from the road and only barely visible without binoculars (or a 300mm camera lens). We could see they were eating, but couldn’t figure out what. Then one adult hyena picked up a sizable chunk of meat and started walking towards us, followed closely by a sub-adult with a piece of leg in its mouth. As they came closer we could identify the prey item as a buffalo calf, or what was left of it anyway. Whether it was caught by the hyenas themselves or killed by lions and then stolen we’ll never know. In any event, the hyenas promptly deposited their meat in a drinking trough on the opposite side of the road to where the actual Hapoor Dam is. Caching food in this fashion is quite well-known hyena behaviour.

The hyenas were still tussling in the water, apparently not knowing whether they want to save their meal for later or gobble it all up now, when a big elephant bull appeared out of the spekboom-thicket some distance away. And he was obviously on a mission. In no time the elephant closed the distance to the hyenas, and while the courage of the younger of the two predators gave in much quicker than that of his older pack mate both had to vacate their bath-cum-larder before the agitated bull got too close. For his part the elephant then gave the fouled water one indignant sniff before moving across the road to drink from Hapoor Dam proper.

With the elephant gone, the hyenas quickly moved back to their pantry, retrieved their meat and continued their meal. The day was heating up though and the Pied Crows were starting to get really annoying, and so they put their meat away a final time to be enjoyed later.

Summertide Diary: Elephant Antics

It probably goes without saying that the African Elephants are the star attractions at Addo Elephant National Park, and the grey behemoths certainly are not shy to show themselves. These charismatic creatures are a joy to behold as they go about their daily routines, and their social interactions are always fascinating to watch.

Young elephants especially are full of energy and just love roughhousing with a playmate whenever the opportunity presents itself.

And if there’s no other elephant youngsters around to play with, warthogs and zebras will do just as well – if only they’d stand still!

When watching elephants in the water there’s just no denying that they are having loads of fun at the pool!

Mid-morning at Addo’s Hapoor Dam we were watching a herd around the waterhole, and noticed two baby elephants playing together. One little tyke sauntered off to its mother for a drink of milk, while one remained standing in the original spot. And when he realised he was all alone, and feeling hungry, there’s only one thing a baby elephant knows to do to get mom’s attention: THROW A TANTRUM! He squealed and trumpeted, stomped his feet and even stood on his hind legs for a split second, until mom came running looking more than a little embarrassed at her boy’s behaviour! What parent doesn’t know that feeling?

At the hide in the camp we peaked through a hole in the fence to get this picture of a touching moment between mother and calf. Elephant heaven.

Summertide Diary: Spending time with hungry elephants

I can’t think of another reserve in South Africa where the elephants are quite so relaxed around humans and their vehicles as they are in the Addo Elephant National Park. Of course this allows visitors to observe up close just how dexterously elephants use their trunks – and feet! – to uproot even tiny morsels of tasty plants.