An Elephant Never Forgets…Neither Will We!


When it comes to trip reviews, I don’t usually like to post about a place we’ve already reviewed (unless there have been noticeable changes, good or bad), however, this weekend’s trip to Pilanesberg National Park and more specifically, this morning, definitely warrants a write up.

We camped at Bakgatla Campsite and were very happy with our stay. The reserve itself was much unchanged by way of our experience: complete lack of discipline on the roads (both by the public as well as the tow-truck drivers…sorry, tour guides).

That’s not what this article is about though so I wont get into all that, again.

I’m going to start off by saying that I don’t like elephants. I really don’t. Not that I don’t like them as such, nor am I unhappy about them being elephants (large, strong and temperamental). I just don’t like to see them up close from the “safety” of my own car. Too many bad experiences. From a distance I am very happy to sit there and watch them go about their daily routine, just as long as they don’t get too close.

So much for that idea! Today while poodling around Pilanesberg we noticed a few elephants on a hill to our right which we could easily get to via a link road and best of all, the tow-truck drivers (I do apologise, tour guides) hadn’t found them yet. We set off on our merry way and, as expected at that time of day, found a queue of cars watching them already. The road was very narrow so we nudged along with the rest of the cars but sadly, we didn’t get a very good view.

We moved along, planning the rest of our route to get us back in time to break camp and head home. Not too far down the road we came across a good sized male elephant (with only one tusk) marching towards the road ahead of us. We had a car in front of us who stopped to allow the bull enough space to cross ahead of us and we stopped up behind.

On reaching the road, he stopped and started walking towards both cars. As we usually do, we backed up. We have been advised on two courses of action in this scenario: a) reverse slowly and b) stop the car and let him walk past. I’m sorry but have you seen the size of a fully grown male?! I hadn’t yet had the stones to actually park up and wait to see if an elephant is going to just walk past or compact the car (have you seen that email floating around about what the elephant did to a car in that same reserve?).

The car infront of us, in all his wisdom, not only tried to reverse into me a number of times but also tried to squeeze past. Now a Toyota Fortuner isn’t exactly a small vehicle, so how he planned to get past me on that narrow section of road I have no idea.

By this stage there were a few cars behind us who were all interested in getting close for a good view. The road widened a bit and the bull stopped to eat for a few minutes. I pulled to the side and let the other cars past, including a tow-tr…tour guide in a large truck full of guests.

The elephant started for the cars again knowing full well that we were all rather nervous and I’m sure he was having a great time bullying us. With that in mind, I now know why a male elephant is called a bull (insert cheesy laugh here).

Pilanesberg Elephant

By this stage I’d had about all I can take of this elephant and reversed past the other cars so I could do a 3-point turn, which ended up needing about 15 points. Heading back in the other direction and back at the narrow stretch of road we come across some other cars, stopped looking at the first set of elephants. One particular gentleman expected me to squeeze past him on, I kid you not, a metre of road that was between him in the middle of the road and a nasty ditch on the verge.

Anyway, when we eventually convinced him to move over we hadn’t gone a hundred metres when we find another elephant in the road. Lovely, now we’re boxed in. I thought it was a female but I don’t know for sure. She then starts playing/fighting (again I’m not sure) with what I assumed was another large male right in front of us.

African Elephant

What an amazing thing to watch, especially how they almost caressed each other with their trunks at the beginning. I again became very nervous when they started edging down the road towards us. By then the other cars behind us had moved off so I engaged my trusty reverse gear and start backing up. They weren’t bothered by us, however, they were between me and an elephant free area so I wasn’t too happy. We back up to another car and start reversing past him. Again I plan a 3-point turn to head in the other direction. The other cars were long gone so I figured the bull had moved off and let them through.

As we pull abeam the other car, I check my mirrors again to make sure I’m on track and not about to end up in a ditch. Guess who is walking down the road straight towards us? Now there are two cars next to each other, roudy elephants in front and a determined male bounding straight for us behind. Are you kidding me?!

The other car then started up and pulled ahead of me so we weren’t blocking the road and we sit. One eye on the two in front and the other watching all my mirrors fill with a large male elephant. That must be one of the first times in my life I have found myself without any options and it wasn’t great.

The bull continued walking up to us until he was right behind the car. I could count the individual hairs and if I hadn’t been shaking so bad, probably the pores in his skin. At the last instant he veered off and walked past us. He was close enough that if he’d swayed even slightly he would have bumped the car.

Once he was slightly ahead of the car ahead we both reversed, slowly at first, picking up pace once we were out of sight of the herd. Another 15-point turn and we were on our way to safer ground.

What a morning, and that was all within an hour of setting out on our drive. I still don’t like elephants and now I really don’t want to get up close. Quite possibly, if we had stayed put when the bull had first started stalking the cars, he would have gone right past. I still don’t know if I could put myself in that situation. Call me chicken.

If anyone out there has any similar experiences, or advise on how they would have (or we should have) handled the situation, we would love to hear from you.

It’s been a long post and if you’ve lasted this far, thank you for reading

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