The majestic elephants of the Pilanesberg
The Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa is one of the best wildlife experiences in terms of the abundance of wildlife that can be found there. We have spent over 4000 hours guiding over the past 8 years. And yes we have basically seen it all. We’ve witnessed the gore and bloodshed of a lion taking down an impala. We’ve see the now endangered rhinos doing the funky monkey that would make even the most candid of us blush. We’ve even had lofty giraffes sticking their heads into our game vehicles to see who’s who in the zoo, I mean safari park. But what fascinates us the most about our Pilanesberg safaris is the African elephant. There are over 250 elephants in the reserve and so the chances of seeing them are pretty high. Well giraffes are pretty high but you know what we mean.
We have been fortunate enough to spend time with the various breeding herds of the elephants of the Pilanesberg as well as the infamous Bull elephants. Elephants are probably one of the most intelligent land animals. Having spent many hours observing their behavior we our respect for them grows every time we are privileged enough for them to allow us into their circle of trust. On many occasions we have run into a breeding herd with babies. How they react to us is incredible. The social fabric of these breeding herds is so intricate and ordered. At the top of this stable social group is the matriarch who is chosen not on strength like most animal species but on intelligence.
The hierarchy below her consists of closely related females and their offspring. One of the most amazing things about elephants is that when a calf is born all of the adult females will start to lactate allowing the youngster to feed of any of the ‘aunts’ should something happen to its mother. Bull elephants will only join the herd when one of the females is on heat. This is not hard to do in the summer months of the Pilanesberg where temperatures can reach well above 35 degrees Celsius. Elephants also do not tolerate inbreeding. So when a bull elephant reaches maturity at 16, he is unceremoniously chased out of the herd to form his own family structure.
How to elephants communicate?
They have the ability to use most of their senses. Hearing the low ‘rumbling’ sounds as they stroll past our game vehicle is a soul uplifting experience that will stay with you forever. But we humans are limited in what we hear. Most of the elephant sounds are beyond our capability known as infrasound ranging in frequency between 14-25 Hz. Their sense of smell is also very acute. They say that once an elephant recognizes your smell they will remember you 7 years later. I’m not sure about that but one thing for sure is that one particular breeding herd that we always seem to bump into on the north western part of the Pilanesberg has taken a liking to us.
The elephants will usually spend up to 20 minutes just hanging around our game vehicle. Sometimes even rubbing on the Landover’s bull bars to get rid of a scratch. And as we mentioned in the beginning, there is something so special about these incredible animals. They will often make eye contact with us and there is that moment when human and animal connect in a way that is so incredibly spiritual that you will never want to leave them. A Pilanesberg safari tour is definitely the most rewarding way to not only engage and witness some of the most incredible wildlife in South Africa’s 4th largest game reserve, but to also connect with the elephants and learn from them.
Nature is definitely a good teacher. Us as humans just need to open ourselves to their teachings. And just remember. On your next Pilanesberg safari tour, do not bring a mouse. Elephants are apparently scared of them and we don’t want our old Landrover defender that has been a part of our family for a long time to get jumped on. In closing, another somber fact about elephants and the rest of the Big 5 (lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard) is how they became known as the Big 5. And no it has nothing to do with their size. Because then the Hippo and Giraffe would be included. Unfortunately they got there coveted name in the early 1900’s when the hunters from Europe came. They are regarded as the most dangerous animals to hunt. They are ferocious and will protect their young to the death. A harsh history that brings with it a new set of challenges in modern times for these animals of the Pilanesberg and any other South African game reserve for that matter.