Much has  been documented recently about the latest rains bringing an end to the drought conditions experienced at Londolozi over the past few seasons.

We have seen considerable changes to water levels both the major waterholes and the Sand River, along with the mud-wallows and pans that were previously barren and lifeless. Taking advantage of this surplus of standing water have been Londolozi’s pachyderms; the elephants.

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An elephant frolics ecstatically in the water, cooling itself down it the searing summer temperatures.

It is widely known that elephants are no strangers to water and are highly capable swimmers.  Contemporary research points to the possibility that elephants evolved from an aquatic ancestor that used its trunk as a snorkel whilst spending a significant period of time submerged beneath the water. Modern day elephants, having adapted such techniques, are able to stay in the water with their trunk exposed for hours at a time. Such theories suggest that elephants are closely related to, and have evolved from, aquatic animals such as the Manatee and Dugongs. Although it is somewhat common to view African and Asian elephants swimming in other parts of their respective home continents, the lack of deep and large enough bodies of water at Londolozi make such a sighting relatively rare.

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This photo was taken seconds before the elephant completely submerged itself beneath the surface.

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A ‘snorkel’…

Recently, upon approaching Shingalane Dam on central Londolozi, we saw that a breeding herd of elephants in the distance was making their way directly towards the water. With great excitement, I explained to my guests that they may well be coming to drink and suggested that it could be worthwhile to sit and wait for them to approach. Whilst the herd was still some distance away, tracker Freddy Ngobeni suddenly exclaimed that there was an elephant in the middle of the dam, and to everyone’s amazement, upon rounding the corner, we noticed a large number of elephants already frolicking and playing gracefully in the water.

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The emotions of pleasure, pure bliss and ecstasy were palpable as the elephants begin to play around in the water.

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Before entering the water and fully submerging herself, this large elephant cow had a long drink and continuously flicked water around in a highly playful and enthusiastic manner.

The large quantities of water now present in the dam resulted in deep central depressions where the elephants were unable to stand, but they proceeded to spray water all over each other and swim beneath the surface, with what seemed absolute pleasure and satisfaction. It was certainly one of the most enjoyable sightings I’ve been witness to in recent months!

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

Callum Gowar

Field Guide

Growing up in Cape Town, the opposite end of South Africa from its main wildlife areas, didn't slow Callum down when embarking on his ranger training at Londolozi at the start of 2015. He had slowly begun moving north-east through the country anyway, ...

More stories by Callum

16 Comments

on Swimming With Elephants
    Mike D says:

    With the mass persecution of elephants around Africa its great to see elephants with their guard down and enjoying land which they live on. Let’s hope future generations will be around to enjoy moments like this in their habitat in the absence of being tracked and hunted by poachers.

    Sharon Blackburn says:

    Wonderful story and photos. And the video – just have to smile watching it! The idea of possible evolution from an aquatic ancestor is fascinating! Great post, Callum!

    elizabeth Molony says:

    Your blogs bring Joy to a world of worries.
    I love the elephant dong a headstand! Children at heart.
    Your brilliant photographers.

    Judy Guffey says:

    Absolute magic, Callum. A great start to my day!

    Lea says:

    Great pics Callum and loved the video of the ellies having so much fun in the water. You can almost imagine their delight in submersing themselves and cooling off. Love ellies and the babies are such characters with their mock charges and antics. Thanks for this article, simply love it.

    Eva Weeks says:

    What a treat it was to see this! I certainly won’t ever forget this sighting!

    Sandra Wilson says:

    That was another exciting day with you! Thanks for the memories! The Wilson and Weeks families.

    Judy B. says:

    What a beautiful sight! A whole different view of elephants! Thanks for sharing.

    Jill Larone says:

    Great video, Callum! Thank you so much for sharing it and the fantastic pictures! It made me smile to see the Elephants so happy and having so much fun in the water. It broke my heart to see them suffering so badly throughout the drought, so it’s great to see them doing so well again.

    Francis Daisy janssen says:

    Wow thank you the. Best I have seen in a very long time thebare so great

    Wow that is the. Best I have seen in a long time ,they are so great full for all the rain thank you Francis

    Bob & Lucie Fjeldstad says:

    We understand that the drought may have been somewhat relieved but for those of us who only remember the dry Sand River riverbeds, can you post some pictures from the camp decks to show how much water is in the river?

    James Tyrrell says:

    Sure thing Bob and Lucie; the river came down very strongly last night thanks to heavy rains upstream. There is a video out on our instagram feed at the moment of it but we will do a more comprehensive blog soon.

    Jenifer Westphal says:

    Great photos! Looking forward to meeting you and seeing Freddie again on Tuesday!!

    Kathryn Weeks says:

    Thanks for some amazing memories at Londolozi, and this is one of the ones that is still so fresh and clear in my mind. It was a real treat to experience this with you, Callum.

    Wendy Hawkins says:

    This is stunning story, pictures & video! I have just returned from Addo where they haven’t had rain for over a year so there are no deep dams or rivers for them to do this, so I Thank God for this Blessing that has been given to KNP & Londi! Thank you Callum 🙂

    Ann Gerbin says:

    Just when I was having a bad day at work, I click on the blog and see my beautiful elephants, playing in the water! Thank you so much for the post. You made this girl’s day in a far away land!

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