Bull Elephant Close Encounter – Kruger National Park – Walking vs. Driving African Game Reserves

It’s hard to describe the size and power of a very large African bull elephant – the largest on record stood 15 feet at the shoulder and weighed 26,000 pounds. Zoos don’t keep them due to their sheer size and power, but also because they periodically enter into a period called “musth” when their testosterone levels spike to six times normal, during which time they become aggressive, bad tempered and completely focused on mating – 8-10 tons of hell on wheels. To put in perspective, look at the attached photos of Jane standing in front of a 9 plus ft. tall water tank, then a fairly large bull elephant drinking over the top – his head and shoulders are easily 2 ft. above the tank, putting him at about 11 ft. at the shoulder. We were in Kruger park when elements came together for us to be face-to-face with a very large bull, separated by a fence about 5 ft. tall. The interaction began with our drive to the Tamboti Bushveld Camp in Kruger National Park in NE South Africa. Along a semi dry riverbed, we noticed two bull elephants, one very large wallowing in the drying riverbed mud. We pulled into our camp, and walked the aforementioned perimeter fence, noticing that the big bull had finished his wallow and was heading across the riverbed directly towards. The sun was in the bull’s eyes (they don’t see well anyway), and a stiff crosswind denied him our sent. The bull proceeded up the riverbank and began pulling down branches more then 18 ft. up in the trees down to his mouth. He kept feeding towards us until he was less than 50 feet from us, then 30, then 15. His eyes closed from the sun glare, and with no scent, and with us standing completely still (the only thing you can really do – running would both startle him and possibly cause him to chase us – which would be no match). It was an amazing combination of thrill, awe and fear. The bull then set his sights on the tree under which we were standing and at less than 15 ft, suddenly detected us. A few seconds passed, which seemed like an eternity while he processed his surprise. Fortunately for us, he calmly turned away and moved away from us (this is almost always the case), but turned every few paces to check up on us and make sure we were not following (doing so would probably caused him to wheel around and charge). We then processed the event and began to breathe again. Jane has great video of this, including the bull calmly pushing over a 2 ft. diameter tree to see if it was good to eat.


Many people don’t realize that in popular reserves such as the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kruger in South Africa, you are not allowed to set foot out of your vehicle, or even lean out of it, save for a few designated areas. This is, of course due to the idiot factor with some visitors who insist on trying to “commune” or otherwise touch or contact wild animals. I personally blame the, in my opinion, idiotic 60’s blockbuster “Born Free”, which suggested that lions, and other wild animals are really just furry people. The exception to this rule is that you can walk on foot in the bush with a guide for as little as 3 hours and as long as a week. The guide and a tracker scan the area for big game, steer a path around them well outside their comfort zone, and in the very rare event of a charge by elephant, buffalo or rhino, typically carry a Bruno .458 rifle, the cartridge for which is the size of a small cigar (see ammunition belt of guide in pictures). Walking in the African bush is absolute magic, but can be tense – we had close contact with both big bull African buffalo (see picture of him making up his mind what to do), and the notoriously cantankerous black rhino. Both turned and move away quickly when they finally got our scent. The tracks, the smells, being at eye level is amazing. Having said all the above, the zebra and impala, and even elephant that you can approach with a few feet in your car, flee at 200 yards on foot. So for seeing animals close up, keep in your Star Trek Cloaking Device, also known as your car. Why animals don’t differentiate you from your vehicle is not clearly understood. The can obviously smell you, and animals such as elephant, rhino and buffalo are scent-first, but somehow they only perceive the big clumsy harmless thing that is your car.


Elephants are usually quite predictable and not dangerous unless you do something stupid like step out of your car and into their personal space, but in some areas, there is an exception: oranges. In these areas, elephants, particularly old bulls, have discovered what oranges taste like, either because someone intentionally fed them some, or they “found” them in a camping area. Once they’ve tried oranges, they’ll do anything to get them, including flipping your car over or removing rooftop camping tents from the vehicles they’re perched on – humans in them or not….Ant Washford of African Adventure Safaris, has a few pics I’ll upload to this end. NEXT STOP, BOTSWANA Our next trip is advancing to the big league so to speak, that is, camping in the Botswana – in the open, no perimeter fence, like Kruger. The Kalahari Desert, Okavango Delta, and the huge elephant and buffalo migrations along the Chobe River.  No internet or cell, so next post won’t be for a week or so.

Cheers Bryan and Jane

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1 Response to Bull Elephant Close Encounter – Kruger National Park – Walking vs. Driving African Game Reserves

  1. Just checking in to make sure we don’t have to send the calvary in for you guys.

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