“Move Aside Tiny Humans” said the Bull Elephant

Bull elephant in Tarangire, Tanzania


That’s all I could think about as he lumbered towards our jeep. He’s HUGE! 

I was in Tanzania, standing on the seat of our large Land Rover, the top half of my body sticking out of the roof and yet the bull elephant’s head still seemed a mile above mine.

Our visitor was in Musth—a period when a male elephant’s testosterone level is high making him irritable and dangerous. His head was up and he held his ears out wide in a show of dominance, the bone-dry grass crackling under his step.  He stopped to raise his trunk and catch our scent then comically laid his trunk over one tusk as if he were a butler with a towel draped over his arm.

He was the George Clooney of elephants: tall, handsome, in control—an elephant of a certain age for sure—no tacky charging for this fellow. He left that for the younger bulls that didn’t have the sophistication he’d honed over his many years. He didn’t have to flaunt his prowess, he knew who was boss and it wasn’t us. We were tiny humans in a metal can, we were no match for his will.

Bull elephant crossing a road in Tarangire, Tanzania

My guide Chili and I spotted George an hour before, appearing on our left at the far end of the Silale swamp, in Tarangire, making his way towards a small herd of lady elephants grazing in the marshy waters nearby. He could’ve walked in a straight line towards his targets and avoided us completely but he altered his path instead, approaching us on our right, placing us between him and his prize.

Stepping forward, now 15 feet from our jeep, he stopped again, his head tilting right then left, his ears still wide and motionless. It was a conscious stance. It was convection oven hot and if he hadn’t been so interested in being ominous, he would have fanned himself to stay cool.

Bull elephant reaches out to females with his trunk in Tarangire, Tanzania
To give you a sense of just how big George was, the females on the left were bigger than our jeep.

Because George was so close, Chili asked that I remain still and be quiet while he watched the elephant, decoding the minutia of George’s body language. Within a few seconds Chile whispered, ” I know what he wants,” and calmly threw the jeep in reverse, coming to a halt 30 feet away.

George slowly turned his head in our direction, then shook it vigorously, whipping his trunk out as if trying to catch a fly in mid-air. I didn’t have to speak elephant to know we’d been chided.

He hesitated for a second longer and then with the posturing of a conquering hero, sauntered directly over the spot we previously occupied, and went on his way.

His ladies were waiting.

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Categories: Africa, Safaris, Tanzania

138 replies »

  1. You really have to be there to feel the immenseness of mother nature. Seeing them on T.V., as I have done, just doesn’t do it justice. I’d like to see animals in person. However, I worry if human and technological presence is not good for them. Though, we are mammals of Earth, and contact is meant to be. Sadly, it is known that we humans are taking up their habitats, and the poachers aren’t helping with their population growth, either. Sigh.

    • That is such a lovely compliment Sarah. I try my best on these posts and it warms my heart that you were so moved by it.

      Elephants are incredible and every experience that I’ve had with them I treasure. Welcome to the blog. I hope you return.

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  3. How absolutely stunning are the photos and story you have shared. Reading it gave me chills…to be so close to such a wonderous giant. I loved even more how you respected him. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you, I really couldn’t ask for a nicer compliment. I really hope to inspire others to travel and connect with the people and places they visit. If my post has a place in that journey for you, I’m thrilled.

      • It definitely does. Experiencing and loving different cultures, people, and places truly give the purest form of fulfillment and joy in my opinion! Looking forward to reading more of your posts 😊

  4. The photos are beautiful and it was certainly a good read. Elephants are such amazing creatures because despite their size they are caring, gentle and extremely intelligent. I wish to have an opportunity like this one day and I will be awaiting your future adventures! 🙂

  5. Wow, the size difference between him and the ladies was impressive! I love the sepia tone of your images, it really accentuates the mood.

    • He was unbelievable. One of the largest elephants I’ve ever seen. A mac truck seemed shorter. LOL

      Thanks about the sepia tone. I was experimenting a bit and I like how they came out. 😉

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  7. Wow. I felt as if I was in the writer’s place, feeling what he/she had experienced. Beautifully written & well detailed! I do hope you keep up this amazing work because it is simply delightful to read.

      • Hello Susan,

        As always, I adored your post. Your writing is as captivating as your photography! Our safari in Kenya with Linda from Custom Safaris is right around the corner…getting so excited. I’ll be grateful to come back with a few photos half as good as yours!

      • Thanks, Whitney! So excited about your upcoming safari. Yippee. You’re going to have the best time. You have to contact me upon your return. I’d love to hear about it. 🙂

  8. Wonderful photos, great writing! I was once in a little Suzuki 4×4 in Samburu Park in Kenya and an elephant noticed us. The guide urged us to back up and get out of the way immediately. I tried to give elephants wide berth. Where I lived was too populated for them, but friends who lived closer to the forest sometimes were awakened by elephants raiding the vegetable gardens. They lit fires and banged pans.
    It’s so sad they are being wiped out to make trinkets.

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