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Elephant drama in Hwange

Elephant drama in Hwange

Elephant drama in Hwange

With the rains this year being less than adequate in Zimbabwe's Hwange National park, wildlife drama around its essential water holes, or pans as they are known, is guaranteed. In late June I witnessed an extraordinary incident.

Staying at Africa Bush Camp’s Somalisa Camp, and shortly into an afternoon game drive, we arrived at a typical Hwange dry season waterhole scene. Several herds of elephants were jostling for precious water and beyond the waterhole two male elephants were facing up to each other and trading minor blows. The joust did not initially appear serious and the bulls drifted off after a couple of minutes. We also left the fairly tranquil scene.

A few minutes down the road, we noticed a large elephant that appeared to be lying down, though we soon realized he was actually injured. A young bull standing nearby suddenly charged the stricken bull and pummelled him, driving his short tusks into the head and body. This scenario continued for about ten minutes, with the commotion attracting the attention of two herds of females and young. Time and again the injured bull attempted to rise, only to be attacked by the youngster. Twenty or more other elephants milled about and added to the drama with much rumbling and youngsters squealing.

It was clear that the bull was wounded and his death was inevitable, though it was likely to be protracted. As we contemplated the inevitable, a huge bull elephant approached. With his head held high and ears flared to increase the appearance of his already impressive size, he dispatched the young assailant with merely a look and he had the scene to himself.

He stood over the elephant on the ground and quite suddenly drove his large tusks into its head, once. He paused for several seconds and then walked away. We were speechless, and the fallen elephant motionless.

After a few minutes, our professional guide decided he would walk over and take a look. He approached carefully, though soon realized the elephant was dead, with a large tusk wound through the roof of its mouth.

We discussed how to interpret what we had witnessed; what had driven the youngster to such aggressive behaviour? Was the executioner bull killing out of mercy? Probably not, and I suspect this incident has more to do with dry season stress and no quarter given for the weak.

It was a riveting spectacle that underlines the adage that you never know what you will witness on safari.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 10, Sept 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide: