June 8

An Unlikely Encounter Between Two Rhinos and an Elephant

June 8, 2017

Spotting the Big 5 is usually on most safari goers to-do list. And one of the best things to see on a game drive, at least in my opinion, is an interaction between two different animals. Now, seeing an interaction between two of the Big 5 is probably the ultimate safari bucket list goal. Hanspeter Lang from Birr, Switzerland, was lucky enough to see a clash between an elephant and a rhino mother with her baby. He sent an image into our Africa’s Photographer of the Year competition and we were captivated, so we asked him to tell us the story.

Hanspeter and his wife had their 25th anniversary coming up and decided to jet off to South Africa for a safari celebration. He is an avid photographer and loves to take pictures of wildlife, which means he’s on every single game drive! You can’t miss a second of the action if you’re a photographer.

Rhino mom and her calf
Image Credit: Hanspeter Lang

They set off one evening, camera in tow, ready for any action, unaware of what was around the corner. They spotted two rhinos and an elephant from a distance scattered among some zebra and decided to investigate the scene.

Young Adolescent Elephant
Image Credit: Hanspeter Lang

They slowly moved towards them, trying to get a closer look and possibly an up-close photograph or two. What could have prepared them for what was to come? The cheeky adolescent elephant became increasingly intrigued by the rhino and her baby and ran towards them, trunk blazing.

The elephant charges at rhino mom and baby
Image Credit: Hanspeter Lang

The game ranger told them, “This elephant is a young, wild teenager and likes to tussle.”

Usually, when male elephants reach adolescence they spend less time with their mothers and break off into ‘bachelor pods.’ During this time of maturity, once a year, males experience a thick, black secretion, from their temporal ducts, which is known as ‘musth’. Their glands swell, causing pressure in their head and by their eyes, and tends to be quite painful. The combination of this and an increased amount of testosterone also makes them increasingly aggressive. Puberty is difficult, guys!

This young one doesn’t seem to have any marks of ‘musth’ however, which usually appear in front of their ears.

Hanspeter Elephant charges rhino mom and baby
Image Credit: Hanspeter Lang

Hanspeter mentions that there aren’t many elephants in this private game reserve and there weren’t any around at the time. It has been documented that young elephants who do not have older males around to model behaviour from tend to cause more trouble. When elephants are in this state they have been known to go after rhinos and other large animals to let go of some of this pent up energy.

Elephant bull charges at rhino mom and baby
Image Credit: Hanspeter Lang

With the adolescent elephant charging in, the mama rhino came to the rescue. Her large horn came to their defence as she averted the elephant’s attention away from her baby. I wouldn’t want to mess with this mom and her weapon of choice!

Rhino mom charges back at the elephant
Image Credit: Hanspeter Lang

Hanspeter says that there aren’t too many elephants in the reserve and thinks he just wanted to get in touch with the rhinos. He also mentions that this elephant didn’t run away from the rhino’s immediately and stayed in close proximity to them for some company. Maybe there is some truth in this and this poor elephant is just a tad lonely.

The little one looks very confused and surprised at the whole encounter, “Woah! What the hell was that thing, Mom?”

Elephant bull charges rhino mom and baby
Image Credit: Hanspeter Lang

Thankfully, everyone was safe at the end and Hanspeter and his wife have beautiful pictures and an amazing story to share around the next campfire. He had to take these pictures from a moving safari vehicle, which must have been very difficult. They seem to have come out beautifully! It’s experiences like these that make you feel alive and ignites a passion and love for Africa and its animals. Thank you to Hanspeter for these incredible images and sharing your story with us.

*Disclaimer: No elephants or rhinos were hurt in the making of this blog post.


Big 5, Wildlife

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About the author 

Jennifer Southwell

Jennifer is happiest when life is filled with good gin, strong coffee and great adventure. She makes leather bags and rock climbs for fun and relishes in life's little peculiarities. She is passionate about Africa and its animals and has been lucky enough to have been to the most amazing safari destinations such as Moremi, Okavango and Kalahari in Botswana as well as Kafue and South Luangwa in Zambia and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Give her a gin and tonic in the heart of the bush and she will reach maximum level bliss.

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