Roar Africa

Exploring Africa Since 1688

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Goodbye, old friend (Elephant mourning his friend)

I came across this moving story in the The Natal Witness , 13 Feb 2009, by Schalk van Schalkwyk:

Goodbye, old friend

Kruger National Park — Tourists watched in tears as an elephant bull bade farewell to its “friend”, the deceased bull Alexander. The bull tried to chase vultures and hyenas away from Alexander’s carcass and even tried to pick him up.

Alexander, one of the Kruger National Park’s largest elephants and a familiar sight in the area around the Mopani Rest Camp, died last weekend, apparently of a heart attack. Tourists parked near the carcass watched as an elephant bull arrived there and tried to lift up its friend. The carcass was about 20 metres away from the main road.

“I don’t know whether he was saying goodbye or whether he was trying to wake him,” said Susan Andjelkovac, an honorary game ranger.

The bull first chased the hyenas and the vultures away. He then tried to manoeuvre his big tusks under Alexander’s head. During one of the attempts, one of Alexander’s tusks nearly pierced one of the bull’s eyes. By then, game reserve personnel had already removed Alexander’s heart and lungs for examination, and the scavengers had also got stuck into the approximately six tons of meat.

Andjelkovac relates: “The bull sniffed and touched Alexander all over with its trunk. When it could not lift Alexander, it went and sat down on top of him. It even urinated on him.

“I cried so much. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen something like this. I can’t get it out of my mind. A guy in a car next to me and my sister-in-law asked us with much concern whether we were okay, we were crying so much.”

After trying for about half an hour to get Alexander up, the elephant bull suddenly left. It later appeared that he had just gone to have a drink of water, as he was back again a little while later. Another 15 minutes later, he seemed to realise that his old pal would not be able to get up again. He then placed his trunk over the spine of the carcass and stood dead still for about a minute before disappearing into the trees.

That evening in the camp, some of the women said they had not seen such passionate love for a friend in a long time. They said that everyone — men, women and children — “bawled their eyes out”.

Alexander’s grieving “friend” broke off one of the dead elephant bull’s tusks with one tug, while a team of workers took 45 minutes to pull the other one out.

Game ranger Johann Oelofse told what happened when they arrived to remove the tusks.

“He [the ‘friend’] first chased off a bunch of vultures before rubbing up against Alexander’s body. Then he took the tusk between his own trunk and tusk and there was a crack as he pulled the tusk out..’’

The tusks will be stored in the ivory safe at Skukuza.

Note from Rob: There are many stories of elephants apparently mourning their dead but we must be careful when we ascribe human emotions to animal behaviour. We don't know what the elephants are doing when they investigate the bones of their deceased. Elephants often closely examine tusks they find in the field, and even carry them around as if they recognize their former owners. It was reported on censorbugbear that Alexander's "friend" carried the tusk he removed towards the rangers and left it about 8m from them before returning to the body.

According to a report on IOL, Johann Oelofse of Mooiplaas, Kruger National Park, dismissed speculation that Alexander and the bull were ‘old friends’, saying:
"We don't know they were friends. ... Probably in their wanderings of this area, they spent quite a bit of time together. But the bulls are very solitary. There's no strong coalition between them. It's not like they were bosom buddies and the one was really crying out. Until we start speaking elephantese, we'll never know."

Whatever these beautiful creatures are doing when apparently mourning it is clear that we do not fully understand them. They seem capable of greater understanding and consciousness than most people credit them with and they deserve our respect.

Picture from Die Beeld newspaper.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This site and its content © Copyright 2009. Photos used with permission. Read more in the ROAR AFRICA Payment and Cancellation Policies.
Site designed and implemented by Engage Brandcraft CC. To report any problems with this site please contact