Tag Archives: African Elephant

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi’s Giants

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is home to giants; behemoths that can cause the earth to tremble with every step. And they’re not shy about showing themselves either, as we found out again during our visit in December.

Buffaloes were in evidence throughout the Park, whether as lone bulls, in small bachelor groups or in huge herds.

We could never tire of seeing elephants!

The curious giraffes tower over everything else in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, except the magnificent scenery…

It is thanks to Hluhluwe Imfolozi that we can still see the Southern White Rhino in the wild today.

We didn’t get to see the hippos on this trip, and only managed two quick sightings of black rhinos that were too fleeting for photos, but still, these galleries should be proof enough that giants still roam Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.


Addo wouldn’t be Addo without the elephants…

Last week I had the pleasure of a quick visit to the Addo Elephant National Park, and of course the Park’s star attractions delivered wonderful performances! Every herd had the tiniest and cutest of babies in attendance, and the massive aggregation of literally hundreds of elephants milling around Hapoor Dam is a spectacle I will never forget.


Them Big Old Bulls

What better way to wrap up the report back on our winter visit to the Kruger National Park‘s Satara and Mopani Rest Camps, than to appreciate those majestic elephant bulls that roam the Lowveld!


Wide load ahead! African elephants laying claim to the road…

Weight(less)” is the theme for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge.

African Elephant

Loxodonta africana

The African elephant is one of our favourite animals, and every encounter we have with them is special and memorable. There’s just something so majestic in the confident swagger of the big bulls, so tender in the loving care of the cows and so playful in the antics of the calves.

Mature bulls weigh up to 6000kg and stand as high as 4m at the shoulder, while cows measure up to 3.4m high and weigh up to 4000kg. The forest elephant of Central Africa, a different race to those occuring here in South Africa, are much smaller.

The herd is the core of elephant society, and comprises an older, experienced, dominant female or matriarch, her sisters and daughters, and their calves of varying ages. Sometimes these smaller family units join up with others to create massive congregations of 200 or more animals. Elephants are active throughout the day and night, resting in the shade only during the hottest hours of the day, usually near water. Their intelligence is legendary and the close bonds between herd members, who look after their sick and dying kin as much as they can, has always been an inspiration to humans.

Mature bulls are mostly solitary, or accompanied by younger bulls known as “askaris”, and maintain a dominance hierarchy through threat displays and fights that would sometimes lead to the death of one of the combatants. After being forced from their maternal herds at the onset of puberty, around 15 years of age, bulls will only join up with the breeding herds again temporarily to mate.

Elephants are able to inhabit any habitat that has sufficient food, water and shade – they occur from the Namib Desert to Africa’s equatorial forests. They are big ecological drivers and a crucial component of the ecosystems in which they occur, having an immense impact on their environment. Their seemingly destructive feeding habits serves to prevent bush encroachment and provides niche habitats for a wide variety of smaller fauna. Consuming up to 300kg of plant material per day, the copious amounts of dung (about 100kg of dung per animal per day!) they produce provide an important source of food for a myriad of small animals, birds and insects. Elephants are not particularly fussy about what they eat and include herbs, grass, reeds, leaves, seeds, pods, bark, roots and branches in their diet, but they are rather fond of mopane trees and mlala palms.


During times of drought, elephants will dig wells in apparently dry river beds, thus providing water not only for themselves but also for all other wildlife in the vicinity. An adult elephant requires between 150 and 300 liters of drinking water daily. After years of continuous use, elephant mudbaths are enlarged and transformed into pans and waterholes that hold water for extended periods into the dry season. Several of South Africa’s passes were built along tracks used by countless generations of elephants to cross our mountains.

Elephant cows give birth to single calves (twins are extremely rare) at any time of year, after a 22-month gestation period. The calves weigh about 120kg at birth an can stand within an hour of being born. They are weaned at the age of two years, by which time they’ve become quite adept at using their trunks to feed and drink water.

South Africa’s wild places is home to several “Big Tuskers“; elephant bulls carrying exceptionally long and heavy ivory. Many of them are named, and become tourist attractions in their own right; living monuments to South Africa’s proud conservation history. The longest tusks recorded in South Africa, 3.05m and 3.17m, belonged to Shawu, a tusker from the Kruger National Park that became famous as one of the “Magnificent Seven” in the 1970’s and ’80’s. The heaviest belonged to Mandleve, who died in 1993 and was also from Kruger, with a combined weight of over 142kg.

Being one of Africa’s famed “Big 5“, elephants are a sought-after species for anyone visiting wildlife reserves where they occur. However, elephants are extremely dangerous and should be treated with the utmost respect. They can charge at speeds of between 40 and 50km/h, much faster than any human can run. Bulls in musth, a heightened state of aggressiveness fueled by elevated testosterone levels that drives their urge to mate and fight for dominance, are very irritable and will charge without much provocation. Mothers are extremely protective of their calves and you should never find yourself between a cow and her offspring. It is always best when viewing elephants to give them plenty of space and pay attention to any warning signs they may give: a head held high, ears held wide open, trunk tucked under the body, shaking the head and ears are all signs that you are too close and need to move away fast.

Adult elephants have little to fear from other animals, and lions and spotted hyenas are the only predators that realistically pose a threat to calves and juveniles. Most elephants succumb to fights, sickness, drought or old age. Old elephants spend most of their time feeding on green, soft vegetation along watercourses, due to them having worn our their last set of molars at about the age of 55 years, finding it increasingly difficult to feed on harder plant material. They then eventually die in these areas, possibly giving rise to the myth of an elephant graveyard.

Trio of pied kingfishers sharing an elephant bone

Trio of pied kingfishers sharing an elephant bone

The Kruger National Park protects South Africa’s biggest elephant population, and they are also a familiar sight in the Addo Elephant National Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Mapungubwe National Park, Pilanesberg National Park and Tembe Elephant Park. Smaller populations have also been established on several other state and private reserves. The tiny population in the Knysna Forests in the Garden Route National Park has fascinated South Africans for decades, with lots of speculation and theories about just how many continue to roam there.

Today, elephants in Africa and Asia are faced with the threats of escalating poaching, habitat loss and various other conflicts with humans. With an estimated 100 African elephants killed daily for the illegal ivory trade in Asian markets, their population is in rapid decline. World Elephant Day was launched on August 12th, 2012, to bring attention to the plight of these iconic animals, and has been observed annually since.


Dodging elephants in Northern Kruger

The north of the Kruger National Park is elephant country. When visiting the area, as we did at the end of September (again 😉 ), the problem is not so much finding elephants as it is staying safely out of their way while enjoying the sighting!

Take this bull as an example. When we arrived at the scene, he was standing out in the open in the middle of the road, but immediately then walked, in reverse, to behind this big tree, from where he kept watching us from either side. Having seen this behaviour before, we knew that he was planning an ambush and was just waiting for us to get closer so that he could have some fun with us. We thought better of the challenge and turned back…

Travelling along the rivers in the heat of the day, we came across breeding herds and solitary bulls making their way to the water for a drink and a swim, and resting in the cool shade of the riparian trees.

Kruger is famous for its big tuskers, and we were fortunate again to encounter about half-a-dozen bulls carrying above average ivory. We always cherish sightings of bulls this size as they’re living proof of the successes of those working very hard, day in and day out, to preserve and protect our natural heritage. The Park has a dedicated researcher monitoring these enigmatic animals, to whom you can submit photos and the location of any sightings.


If you love elephants as much as we do, then head for the north of the Kruger National Park. You are sure to have some special encounters, and if you treat them with respect, heed their body language and don’t invade their space, you’ll be perfectly safe.

World Elephant Day 2013

World Elephant Day 2013 logo

Today, elephants in Africa and Asia are faced with the threats of escalating poaching, habitat loss and various other conflicts with humans. World Elephant Day was launched on August 12th, 2012, to bring attention to the plight of these iconic animals and will be observed for the second time this year.

World Elephant Day 2013

The African Elephant is one of our favourite species and every encounter with them is a moment to treasure. Shown here is a young bull crossing a road in the Kruger National Park, just south of Skukuza Rest Camp.

If you’d like to see some more of very special South African elephants, have a look here:

Isilo of Tembe

Kruger’s Big Tuskers