Have you ever seen two African elephant bulls fight? Field Guide, Neil Jennings shares an encounter he recently had with guests while on foot.

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Our game drive was coming to an end after a very busy morning safari. I was wrapping up the drive along the Sabie River, when we noticed a big breeding herd of elephants down in the water drinking.  The elephants were far away and we didn’t have a clear vantage on the road, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to safely view them on foot. After our safety briefing, we made our way along the crest of the bank to view them.

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The breeding herd was big. There must have been at least 40 elephants comprising adult females and their young. While we were watching the elephants, I noticed a male leopard in the bush less than 50 meters from us. The leopard was laying low. He was watching the elephants, but it is unlikely that the elephants were aware of his presence. We remained still, quiet and alert, and after a few minutes, the leopard took notice of us as well, and after a quick lunge, ran off. 

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Our attention refocused on the elephants. There was one big bull amongst the group. Bull elephants do not normally travel with breeding herds. They are too much of a nuisance and their presence amongst the herd is not tolerated by females. Bulls will however, trail behind a breeding herd when there is a female in estrous, waiting for an opportunity to mate.

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The herd was relaxed enough around this bull’s presence, that is until another male approached. Once the second male got into the river, pandemonium erupted. The herd was very unsettled about these bull elephants fighting with each other and potentially injuring one of their young, so they hastily moved out of the water and stampeded up the bank.

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The newly arrived bull elephant approached the other. These two bulls were both here for the same reason – to win the right to mate. Each was a direct threat and competition to the other. The bulls displayed their size and power to each other, keeping their ears out wide and steady. When this didn’t resolve the conflict, they began to fight. It was a short, but an intense and powerful display. The water splashing in the background made it all the more dramatic. They continued to fight until the victor was established. The defeated bull then high-tailed it out of the area, with the dominant bull on his heels to chase him even further away.

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It’s not every day we get to see this behavior, and was definitely a good show of dominance.”

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Written by: Neil Jennings

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Video and images by: Charlotte Arthun



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