January 12

Bizarre Photographs of an Elephant Attacking and Killing a Buffalo

January 12, 2016

There’s much we don’t understand about the animal kingdom.

Penguins in Antarctica have been known to walk inland, away from their food source and colony, in what has been described as penguin suicide. Cows do it too. Blue whales are singing in ever-deeper voices every year. The collective intelligence of ants is also hard to explain – they can construct an underground megalopolis that “looks like it was designed by an architect. A single mind.” And let’s not even get started on the frightening behaviour of crows! Honestly, it all gets kinda creepy.

African animals are certainly no different.

On a recent trip to Kenya with Rhino Africa, Kimberly Maurer and her travelling party witnessed a truly incredible scene. Something that experts are also struggling to explain.

As Kim explains, “Upon landing in the famous Masai Mara, we were met by our driver and guide, John, who asked if we would like to have a game drive before heading to our camp. Along the way, we noticed a large one-tusked momma elephant with her family walking toward us.


“As our vehicle pulled forward a bit, we noticed a cape buffalo asleep under a bush about 20 feet from the road. John suggested that the buffalo might not be well. As we were watching the elephants grazing and moving toward us, the Cape Buffalo raised his head and stood up, which must have been a threatening movement for the elephants. As the buffalo stepped toward the approaching elephants, the momma elephant trumpeted a warning and threw her trunk up in the air. The elephant moved closer to the buffalo and the buffalo decided to try to ram the elephant and they head butted. The buffalo fell to its knees after it lost the head butt.

“The elephant then surprised us all by lowering her head and, without any warning, went straight for the buffalo.”


“We were in complete shock as she then bent down and literally skewered the buffalo with her single tusk and lifted it straight up over her head with her tusk protruding from the other side of the buffalo.”

©KimMaurer-9 ©KimMaurer
©KimMaurer-11 ©KimMaurer

“She slammed the buffalo back on the ground and backed up. She then herded her family to the other side of the road and continued to trumpet at the mortally wounded buffalo. The buffalo got up and staggered away as blood gushed from its side. He moved about ten feet away from the attack and fell to the ground. He did not immediately die as he kept his head up for a minute or so before completely collapsing.”


“The elephant family, now content that there was no more threat, moved along their way while my family stood in shock and disbelief about what we had just witnessed. It all happened so fast that no one had a chance to start recording a video until it was all over. The sounds of the elephants, the cry of the attacked buffalo and our screams must have woken every sleeping animal for miles. The entire attack lasted less than one minute. My camera recorded my first shot at 10:22:58 and the last one at 10:23:46.”


“Our racing hearts and raging adrenaline had all of us in quite a state. When we had all gathered our wits, we started toward the camp. Upon arrival to Sand River Camp, we shared our story with the General Manager who had been in Africa since 1976. He said he had never seen anything like it. Over the next few days, we became more aware of just how exceptional this experience was. In fact, we were met at the airstrip by the Chief Game Warden who approached John asking to see the photo that he had heard about. His response while viewing the sequence of photos was just, ‘Wow. Wow. Wow. Unheard of.’ Before we departed, John asked for a copy of the photo so that he could ‘silence the skeptics.’

“There must be no place on earth quite like the Masai Mara. We are truly privileged to have witnessed such an incredible sighting in this magnificent setting.”

If you too would like to contribute to our Safari Snapshot series, we’d love to hear from you and feature your photos or video from your special African sighting. Please email Matt (matthew.sterne@rhinoafrica.com) with your submissions. 



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About the author 

Matthew Sterne

Matt discovered a passion for writing in the six years he spent travelling abroad. He worked for a turtle sanctuary in Nicaragua, in an ice cream factory in Norway and on a camel safari in India. He was a door-to-door lightbulb-exchanger in Australia, a pub crawl guide in Amsterdam and a journalist in Colombia. Now, he writes and travels with us.

  • What an incredible story. I have been to the Masai Mara four times and I have never witnessed anything that amazing. Lucky for you….not so lucky for the poor buffalo. Cheers!

    • Hi Donna, I think you could go to the Masai Mara 400 times and you wouldn’t see this! Then again, you never know what you’re going to see. That’s the magic of this amazing continent!

  • … first time I have heard of an elephant/buffalo encounter … elephant/rhino are more common … the rhino lose the contest every time …

  • Two possible scenarios:

    1. The protective mom was startled by the sudden appearance of buff and mistook it for a possible predator threat. Female ele’s with one or no tusks are often more cantankerous and aggressive to make up for their lack in the weapons department. Buff was too stubborn (as normal) to back away from the confrontation and the challenge was dealt with swiftly.

    2. Another scenario I find interesting is that the guide mentioned something about the buff possibly being sick prior to the attack… was any kind of post-mortem done on the buff? I have seen another case where an ele charged and brutally “finished off” a sickly looking sub-adult buffalo, almost in a kind of euthanasia effort because it certainly wasn’t confrontational or posing any kind of threat to the ele. Maybe both ele’s acted according to an animal kingdom code to purge the weak and sickly. Who knows…. we understand so little really about the ways of nature.

    • Hi Shane, thanks for the comment. As I understand it, the buffalo was sick and that may have played a role in what happened. The ‘euthanasia’ theory is an interesting one and food for thought, but as you say, we do understand very little about the animal kingdom…

  • I have strong suspicions about this whole story for the following reasons.

    Initially the narrative says that John, driver and guide suggested that the buffalo might not be well. Assuming he has several years of experience, he probably knows something about buffalo.

    That being the case, it is highly unlikely that a buffalo that is not well will try to initiate a fight and try to ram its head with an elephant that is 6 times its weight.

    Buffaloes and elephants are both herbivores and share watering holes peacefully in Africa.

    They do not see themselves as competitors or predateors and prays.

    After the buffalo lost its head butt it fell to the ground and must have been quite weak.

    In the picture where the elephant is shown to be going after the buffalo, you see the buffalo with its left side on the ground and right side up.

    In the next picture where the buffalo is lifted up, the tusk has entered the body on the left and pierced and comes out on the right. How is this possible when the left side of the buffalo is on the ground? If it had gored the buffalo, the penetration should have started on right side and tusk should have come out on left side.

    In this picture there is no grass on the buffalo or the elephant.

    However in the next picture there is grass on the buffalo.

    If it had lifted a 1300 lb buffalo about 4 meters and slammed it down after goring a 3″ hole in the body, there is no way for a sick and injured buffalo to get up immediately.

    However the author says it took ony 48 seconds from beginning to end where in the last picture the author shows the buffalo on its legs.

    The whole thing looks like a doctored photoshop work and may be to get more website hits.

    There is really no reason for an elephant to go and gore a buffalo that lost the fight and lying flat on the ground since it is no longer a threat to any member of the herd. Even the youngest elephant in the herd seems big enough to have gone past the 3 year weaning period.


    • This is real. Your rationale that Elephants live peaceably with other herbivores is not entirely accurate..
      They are very much like humans in temperament, have moods, personalities, and can be just as irrational.
      The buffalo startled the herd, and Mama warned it, but it then charged her. With the little ones so close, it’s only reasonable that she opened a can of whupa$$.
      Many human mothers would do the same.

    • Some more questions:
      These photos were also on Yahoo. 1. There, to start, a very large, mud covered buffalo was shown near a baby elephant and the baby was shown flying through the air. In following photos, a buffalo is shown, but it’s coat is not muddy, and it is not near as large. 2. How can the two animals of such different height “head butt” each other? 3. The Yahoo article said something absurd that the buffalo was looking for an easy meal – of course buffaloes don’t eat meat. 4. Can an elephant lift and toss that much weight with one tusk? 5. The terrain shown in the Yahoo series of photos first seems to be hilly, but then suddenly it’s flat.

  • Jay, I can understand your suspicions considering how rare this occurrence must be. My family was there and I took the photographs and I assure you that no one is more surprised than us about what we saw and captured. I just wish I had a video to share. It all happened so fast that my sons weren’t able to turn on their phones and cameras to record it until it was over. What we do have on video, however, is the continued warnings of the elephants, our reactions and the buffalo staggering off to die. At the time, we had no idea just how bizarre an occurrence this was. There is no way to explain any discrepancies you may believe you see as it happened just as I said and just as these photos portray.

    Enough people saw the photos on the back of my camera that I’m not concerned about the doubters. I also have the RAW files. The only manipulation you see on these photos is a slight exposure adjustment and a straightening crop. These photos were given to Matthew to share on his blog at the request of our tour agent, Samantha. Any online activity and buzz has been created through Rhino Africa’s Facebook and Instagram postings and nothing I’ve done to generate website “hits.”

    Rhino Africa is a first rate organization. Samantha Myburgh arranged an amazing trip for us and Matthew Sterne has done an outstanding job of sharing our story.

  • Smart animals seem to have widely varying personalities, and some are more violent than others. My impression is very big animals can also get cantankerous – what’s to stop them? Bad combo in this case.

    So was she born with one tusk, or did she lose the other one in some violent attack of hers?

  • I have never been more glad to read an article as I have today. My name is Eric, a Kenyan driver/guide for 10 years now. The reason I am excited to read this piece and see the pictures was because I was also at this spot when this happened last year in the Masai Mara National Reserve. I was on a one week safari in the Mara with a wonderful group of professional photographers but non of us got the pictures. We froze in place as this was happening but I noticed that someone got the pictures and always wished to be able to see them. As luck would have it, yesterday I met your driver guide in Masai Mara and he directed me to your blog. Thank you for sharing this event. I even wrote about it on my own blog regretting the missed picture moment. It was truly something I had never experienced before out there in the wild.

    • Eric, that’s absolutely amazing! I can tell you that this picture has been seen all over the world now with many people going crazy about the photos. So you were incredibly lucky to also be there and see it first-hand. As a guide yourself, you’ll know how rare a sighting this is. We’re very glad you found it and got to see it all over again!

    • Wow Eric, that’s incredible! It’s great that you were able to see the images but being there must have been an amazing experience. What a crazy sighting. Thanks for the comment!

    • I was curious about your blog, so I did some sleuthing and would like to share it with the others visiting this site,
      “Day six – the last day of the safari, was quite the stopper. I got to know what it really means for something to happen in the blink of an eye. There were three teenagers at that sand river scene. One was a teenage buffalo sleeping in the bushes. The other two were teenage elephants strolling with a young calf in the company of a mature female elephant with one left tusk. We will never know what shocked the buffalo out of the safety of the bush. Fleeing, it blindly ran for the elephants – head on to the matriarch. There is no greater wisdom in the wild than to know not to threaten elephant herds with calves. In all my years as a safari driver/guide, it was the first time I heard visitors screaming at the happenings in the bush. Never mind that the scream did not come from our group. The matriarch elephant’s one tusk was tusk enough to lift the buffalo 10 feet off the ground. Coming down, the marred buffalo was not a picture to send home. The unexpected shock of it all froze us in place cameras and all. That split second moment was not captured.”

      You’ve got a lot of really nice photos on your blog- people should check it out:

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