Elephant Encounters in Kruger National Park

By Ellie Oravecz

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Before I departed the United States and arrived in South Africa, I have always had an interest in elephants. This may have been influenced by my mother (Hi Mum!) as she used to collect elephants’ figurines of all materials and sizes. Due to this, I wanted to see an African elephant for my mother in specifically, Kruger National Park.

            On the 15th of June, I departed from Wits Rural and entered Kruger National Park for the first time. I had the opportunity to view many types of animals such as zebras, giraffes, a lion and elephants. My first sighting of an African elephant was a whole herd of elephants gathered in a dry riverbed. It was a spectacular sighting, but I wished they were a little closer. The next day, on a sunset game drive, we encountered a small group of elephants drinking from an artificial watering hole. Our game driver and guide, Thomas, who is extremely skilled, positioned our vehicles quite close to the group which was absolutely fabulous. I was amazed by this experience and started to appreciate these magnificent giants in a whole new way.

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            On the 18th of June, during an afternoon game drive, I had the most spectacular sighting of this entire trip. A large male elephant was standing in the middle of the road which was causing a mild traffic jam. There were many tourists who were parked several meters away from the elephant as they were too intimidated to try and cross his path. Thomas described him as a 48 year old bull elephant and that we were going to pass him on the road. He told us all to stay calm, remain seated and that we were doing to respect his comfort zone. Thomas pulled up right next to the elephant, switched the vehicle off and at that moment we were face to face with this beautiful giant. Everyone is our vehicle was still and some didn’t even take a single breath, including me. Thomas explained to us that the elephant was not stressed by our presence due to his body placement and that he was not admitting any warning signs. These consist of discharge from the temporal gland, flared ears, head shaking, trumpeting and possibly a fake charge. Thomas described that if we respected his space, then he would respect ours. It was amusing to watch the surrounding tourists watching Thomas pulling up next to the giant male elephant in an open air vehicle filled with college students. All the tourists had shocked and confused faces as they probably thought we were all crazy for pulling up next to a massive blue elephant. After a few minutes, we pulled away slowly and I realized that I had gotten the close encounter that I was seeking (maybe a little bit closer than expected).

            In conclusion, this experience has changed my perspective on elephants. At first I was interested in them, but now I appreciate their beauty, mannerisms, behavior and overall presence. I will forever remember this extremely close and spectacular encounter as it was one of a kind.

Natalie Miller