Elephants and Tuskers

Elephants and Tuskers

What is a Tusker?

A Tusker is classified as a bull elephant with genetic properties of magnificent size in body as well as an impressive pair of tusks. Tuskers became known in the ’70s when the first “Magnificent 7” were identified and named in the Kruger National Park. These 7 great beasts we named:

Dzombo
João
Kambaku
Mafunyane
Ndlulamithi
Shawu
Shingwedzi

Each of these bulls was over 50 years of age before their passing. Since the first identification of these 7 big boys, it has become quite a hobby for many. It has also become a project for the parks to identify the new up and coming bulls. Some of these “Younger” Tuskers were transferred to other National Parks in South Africa.

A couple of Tuskers were relocated to Pilanesberg National Park in 1998. The most famous Tusker of all, Amarula, became famous for flipping a car back in 2011 in Pilanesberg National Park. He has by no means been the only bull elephant to attack cars. In the Kruger National Park there have been quite a few incidents of elephants attacking vehicles and it is not only the bulls. The female elephants can also have quite a temper at times, especially when it comes to protecting their young and if they feel that you are just too close for comfort.

Today there are a number of new emerging Tuskers in the Kruger National Park. There are also new emerging tuskers in other South African National Parks as well. For Kruger National Park you can go to

https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/elephants/tuskers/emerging.php to have a look at these new big boys.

Another website you can look at as well for other parks is http://www.tuskersofafrica.com/

I personally am a huge fanatic of elephants and over the years have had many encounters with them. I have been chased by them where they were protecting their herd and young. I have sat amongst a herd where they were so relaxed with me I could have reached out my hand out the window and touched them. I have had a bull put his slurp into my window and feel and sniff around. Each of these encounters has been absolutely amazing experiences and are things in my life that I will never forget.

Warnings

These are such beautiful and majestic creatures that it is beyond me why anyone would want to hurt them. Always respect an elephant. No matter their size, they are still a wild animal and can cause immense damage to your vehicle and to you. Some of the warning signs to look out for when an elephant is not happy with you being too close.

  1. One foot rocking or swinging back and forth often accompanied by them kicking up dust. This is not a warning sign when they are doing it to uproot any vegetation.
  2. Holding the ears out for a prolonged period of time. Elephants are always moving/flapping their ears to regulate their body temperature. When they stare at you and open their ears to make them looking bigger and more intimidating, then this is their warning to you.
  3. Shaking their head. Normally they would shake their head a couple of times and then move off. However, when this happens and they do not move off then it could mean trouble.
  4. Tail held out stiffly at 90°.
  5. Trumpeting loudly and staring at you.
  6. When a bull tugs on his tusks with his trunk.
  7. Mock charging. This is where they will charge you and suddenly stop. Make no mistake, this is a big warning and you had best leave the area ASAP.

More often than not, if you respect them and keep your distance without startling them then you will not have any problems. Make no mistake, elephants can charge on a whim and are a lot faster than you think.

Some of our stories

Don’t mess with mom

Years ago while in the Pilanesberg National Park, we were travelling down the road and I noticed that something wasn’t quite right a little further down the road. As we drove closer, I noticed that there was an elephant cow right next to the road but hiding between 2 trees and all alone. This was quite odd behaviour as they are usually together with their herd. I realised that something was wrong. As I approached her location, I saw in the tall grass standing with her was a new born baby and she had not introduced it to the herd yet.

I tried to warn approaching cars by flashing my lights and letting them know not to come closer as the new mom was acting quite aggressive to approaching cars. I also informed the cars behind my in the road by telling them to pass the message on and I blocked the road to prevent anyone from going past. Unfortunately I was not able to block the other side of the road but people were keeping their distance, understanding what I was trying to do.

There was a driver who did not heed the warnings and proceeded to move close to the trees to try and get a look at the new baby. That was bad news and the new mom was not impressed by this brazen attitude. She stormed out from the trees and smashed the vehicle. The driver got such a fright that they sped off towards us and when they reached us they were safe. Needless to say that the driver and passengers were alright but the damage to the car was quite extensive and ruined their day.

Chris

I own this road

We were in the Kruger National Park and this huge bull came walking down the road towards us. I could see that this big boy was not going anywhere else but where he wanted to and as he got closer I could see that he started to swing his head and trumpet towards us. This was a major warning sign to get out of his way.

Behind us was a whole convoy of German tourists in their mobile homes and I realised we were in trouble. I put my car in reverse and started reversing in order to try and get all the mobile homes behind me to reverse as well. Easier said than done. Some even tried to come past me until I warned them that the bull will attack and that they need to reverse.

We were able to get everyone, about 8 of these mobile homes, to reverse. It was good to be able to warn the tourists about the dangers. After reversing about 200m, the big bull elephant turned off the road and went into the bushes. This could have turned out quite differently if I had not been so strict with the tourists.

Chris

Absolute serenity

Once again on another trip to the Kruger National Park we were on one of the sand roads just taking a very easy and slow drive enjoying all the silence. As we came around a sharp bend in the road, we came to a sudden stop. There, to the left of us, was a herd of elephants with babies just grazing peacefully as they moved along.

We decided to take a couple photos and before we knew it, the herd had surrounded us all looking peaceful. We were so in awe of them that we turned off the engine and completely forgot to take photos as we just sat there watching them. They seemed at such peace with us.

As we were watching them, I suddenly got quite a fright, sitting dead still and not making a move. The matriarch had come right up to us. For a moment I thought she was going to attack but there were no warning signs at all. She did not attack but rather got quite curious about us and put her trunk in through the open window feeling her way around inside the car. I so wanted to touch her trunk but knew that would be a mistake. I left her to sniff around and feel my head. It seems she decided that we were not a threat to her and her herd. After about 2 minutes, which felt like forever, she moved away from us to continue grazing.

We sat there for a good 20 minutes longer just enjoying their presence and feeling part of the herd until they moved off. This was certainly one for books and an experience I will always remember for as long as I live.

Chris