When the fence between the Sabi Sand Private Nature Reserve and the Kruger National Park was brought down in the early 1990’s, a completely different ecosystem was the result.

Animals within the Greater Kruger had access to thousands more acres of natural environment which had essentially been cut off for almost three decades.

Not all of them are transitory or renowned for covering large distances however, yet one species in particular which flourished with this landmark moment in conservation history was the Elephant.

Tusker River Jt

A particularly large elephant bull crosses Londolozi’s Sand River.

Elephants are the only animals which can induce two emotional responses in me at the same time. To be in the presence in one of these giants evokes simultaneous feelings of awe and humility. None more so than the great tuskers, the most famous of which roamed the Greater Kruger Park during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

The names of Shawu, Mafunyane and Duke conjure up an emotional rollercoaster within one’s inner being. These magnificent creatures left their imprint on millions acres of untouched natural bushveld over the past few decades.

Duke800 667x445

Duke, one of the Kruger Park’s legendary tuskers. Photograph by Johan Marais

Today, this pedigree of elephant still exists, and like their predecessors, they are not that easy to find. I was fortunate enough to find myself in the presence of one of these tuskers once, and the encounter – at least for me –  emphasises the psychological influence of the epitome of majesty..  

The morning sun ignites the white pearls of dew on its perfectly sculpted ivory .

This monumental elephant approaches the vehicle; quiet, pristine and majestic. The presence of this animal leaves us awe-inspired. This elephant is no ordinary elephant, this elephant forms part of only a handful of magnificent, regal creatures that have walked this planet. A lineage of distinguished tuskers that has been etched in mythology and folklore.

He takes time to evaluate the vehicle and our presence in an environment he is totally at home in.
An elephant’s body language does not lie. They will show you if they are not happy. This tusker was exhibiting a calmness emanating from decades of experience. He knows that the vehicle does not represent any threat to him in this natural environment. The marula tree on the left hand side of our vehicle has a hypnotizing effect on the elephant and lures him towards its upper branches. With his trunk in the air, one can finally grasp the sheer immensity of this hulking pachyderm. He feeds, we are hushed. 

Elaphant Tusker Clearing Land Rover Jt

He follows a predetermined pathway through a labyrinth of grasses and trees. This is a similar path he has followed his entire life, a path which will lead to all the necessities for survival.

We may have bestowed names upon these creatures, but in the wilderness, they are all just individuals which form part of the circle of life.

This same circle dictates the life of all the wondrous creatures which call Londolozi home. This circle can be tracked from the Mozambican border to the Drakensberg, where centuries-old elephant pathways still exist. To the human eye, imperceptible. To the great tuskers and elephants that have navigated this landscape for hundreds of years, as clear as an airport’s landing strip at night. We cannot even begin to describe their innate abilities and intelligence.
Hopefully, with the correct influences, the circle which dictated the life of the magnificent tuskers of southern Africa will continue to remain unbroken for many years to come.

About the Author

Werner Breedt

Field Guide

Werner guided at Londolozi from 2014-2016, but misses it so much now that he is based down in the Western Cape, that he begged to be able to continue contributing to the blog. Look out for his posts on a wide range of ...

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18 Comments

on An Encounter With a Big Tusker

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Marinda Drake

Beautiful blog Werner. Lovely video. It is always a humbling and inspiring experience to visit the elephant hall at Letaba in Kruger to see the magnificant 7 tuskers display.

Werner Breedt

Thank you, Marinda! The elephant hall is absolutely amazing, one of a kind

Betty-Lou Luijken

What a wonderful post and great video. I love elephants and try to help in conservation by writing articles for Friends of the Elephant in The Netherlands and let them use my images. Elepants are such gentle giants if you respect them and treat them well. I have fostered many orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and have visited them quite often. My first orphan that I fostered was an elephant called Nyiro. I saw him when he was 4 years old and he and I really got along. After the visit I was completely red from the red dirt in Tsavo East NP. Four years later I came back and Nyiro had returned to the wild but was visiting the shelter with his wild friends. The keepers told me that Nyiro still liked to suckle fingers, so I went to him and let him suckle my fingers. He actually took my arm en led my hand to his mouth. While he was suckling my fingers he put his trunk on my head and started to blow warm air on my head. The keepers told me that this behaviour showed that he recognised me. Although this happened a long time ago I still get emotional thinking about it. It was so beautiful.

Werner Breedt

This just proves the innate ability these animals possess. The elephant was still able to recognise after four years. Thank you for doing your part in conservation Betty-Lou, these are the stories everyone should aspire to be a part of.

Betty-Lou Luijken

Thank you for your kind words Werner and yes, elephants have so many abilities we can only dream of. Try visiting a 4 year old child and then come back 4 years later. I don’t think the child will be able to reconise. As a matter of fact I think us humans constantly underestimate the abilities of animals, because we always perceive them from a human angle. Most of us are not capable of seeing things from another angle.

Denise Vouri

Beautiful and inspiring Werner. It is apparent that you have an passion for elephants and my hope is that more people will recognize the threat to them and join the causes to protect these gentle giants.

Werner Breedt

Thank you Denise,

Elephants are one of my favourite animals along with the elusive caracal.

Gillian Lacey

Utterly magnificent

Werner Breedt

Thank you Gillian!

Callum Evans

Such an incredible encounter, loved the way that you described it! I’ve encountered some impressive elephant bulls before, but never ones with tusks like that!

Callum Evans

When did that encounter take place?

Werner Breedt

Hi Callum, it happened in September 2014

Callum Evans

Thanks! I wonder if he’s still around?

Werner Breedt

Hi Callum, possibly. The elephant was around 40 -45 years of age if I had to guess.

Wendy Hawkins

Just so beautiful Werner thank you! I was terrified of elephants but I am able now to happily sit & watch them for hours, but not in KNP just the Addo NP where they are just so different! 🙂

Werner Breedt

Hi Wendy , these animals are indeed gentle giants.
When approached carefully there is no need to be concerned. Just enjoy the sighting

Joanne Wadsworth

I’m so glad that you are able to continue to blog for Londolozi. This piece was exceptional as was the video. I’ve never stood before a tusker as you have….I can only begin to imagine the magnificence. Unforgettable.

Werner Breedt

Thank you Joanne!
It is a once in a lifetime experience

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