Aggressive Elephant Encounter

27. January 2022

The Selati Game Reserve at the edge of Kruger Park in South Africa is a closed reserve of about 30,000 ha. Closed, because it is fenced in. In order to maintain its natural biodiversity the reserve can support a herd of about 130 elephants. To manage the number of elephants without resorting to culling, (a nice word for killing) sophisticated birth control programs have successfully been implemented. Teams of ecology trainees, together with experienced rangers are learning on site what it means to manage a sustainable eco-system.

In November of 2021, a number of EcoTraining Guide students were on a routine ride in an open safari truck when they encountered a young elephant bull in musth, probably quite angry when his first attempts to mate were rejected by unresponsive elephant cows.

Male elephants live in matriarchal societies and therefore the  bulls make only occasional appearances in the the lives of females. Male elephants have to resort to infiltrating a family and  try for a sneak copulation or separate a willing female in etrus from her family. It is often the female  that chooses her partner. Frustration of young bulls having just come into the age of sexual maturity is not unusual. Anger and frustration might result in aggressive behavior, particularly when an outsider such as a safari vehicle shows up close to a family and a frustrated male elephant. To prove his strength there is always the risk that he decides to take his anger out on the intruders.

As male elephants can be in musth anytime and females also have no particular season for being in etrus, it is virtually impossible to know when a herd includes breeding members. In other words, any elephant herd, unless every individual is known by the rangers, must be approached with the utmost care.  Even that is easier said than done, because elephants can be very quiet and invisible until they suddenly appear out of nowhere.


The aggressive Selati elephant male in musth that charged the Safari truck with its in-experienced and frightened occupants, might have stopped short of pushing the truck off the road, had the ranger driving the truck not made the mistake of moving the truck slowly forward in the direction of the charging bull. A careful  reverse retreat might have satisfied him. Fortunately, the bull took out his frustrations on the vehicle rather than one or several of its passengers. That gave the students the chance to escape. Once the elephant’s initial anger and frustration had been subdued and the vehicle was pushed off the road, the frustrated male having fully satisfied his overblown mating ego, left the site while the students were still running in the opposite direction.