Elephants and the Essential Father Figure

Towards the end of 2018 through to early 2023, there was human/elephant conflict in South Africa, along the eastern shores of Pongolapoort dam. It is estimated that some 20 or more elephants were poached and destroyed and sadly, a herder was attacked and killed by an elephant after the death of her calf due to poachers.

The conflicted land belongs to Ezemvelo (KZN wildlife) and is nature reserve.  I wondered how many cattle could be there that would have the elephants protecting their young or feeling threatened and being aggressive to other species? Or was it just a response to humans?

There have been documented cases of elephants killing other animals but it’s important to note that such incidents are relatively rare and typically occur only under specific circumstances. Elephants are generally peaceful animals and are known for their social behaviour and complex communication systems, and most interactions between elephants and other animal species are non-violent. But incidents may occur when elephants are faced with limited food resources or extreme environmental conditions. And also have been known to occur when they have not been trained by their fathers! Elephants are primarily herbivorous and their diet mainly consists of grasses, leaves, bark, and fruits. But incidents do happen.

In 2016, a male elephant in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park was involved in a deadly encounter with a Cape buffalo. The buffalo was gored to death by the elephant during a territorial dispute, illustrating the potential dangers when two powerful species clash over territory and resources.

The incidents that occurred in the 90’s in the Pilansberg game reserve also came to mind. Like the Pongola elephants, these had been rescued and translocated. But unlike Pongola’s elephants, they were all orphans and small, very young family groups. In those days it was difficult to transport full grown bulls.  They didn’t do well but eventually, by introducing two matriarchs, the females pulled the youngsters into order and they became cohesive family groups.

But the young bulls left the herd and came into musth a good 10 years earlier than they should. By 1996 they had created havoc with testosterone out of control, killing, crushing and maiming some 28 rhinos.  What a huge learning curve it was and only with the introduction of several large bull elephants, did the carnage stop as they took control and “trained” the youngsters, inhibiting musth and by dominant leadership, the young bulls calmed and behaved normally again.  No more rhinos were killed once there were strong father figures in control. (I think there is a story here about good parenting for us humans as well!)

The Pongola elephants have very mature matriarchs and bulls, so family hierarchy is in place. The remaining elephants on the eastern shores of the lake in South Africa, eventually swam, with their babies, for refuge in Eswatini, at Royal Jozini Private Game Reserve. There, they have settled and calmed from their trauma.  But the land can only hold some 24 elephants without destruction to the environment and at the time of writing this (April 2024), there has been no resolution to the new homes many will need to be moved to. But watch this space!

The land in South Africa where the conflict occurred is still proclaimed nature reserve and it is hoped that resolutions and plans can be made with the local people to protect and guard it.

It is a good time, though, to visit Royal Jozini to have the opportunity to see the elephants – there are currently more than 80 in residence! Apollo is our eldest matriarch and she was born in 1963, and there are many new born calves from this last year.

Come and see them! Check availability here!