Male Elephants Mount in Pilanesberg National Park

Feb 18 2016

Michael Bowles, a Latest Sightings app (A crowdsourcing site with both iPhone & iPad / Android apps to enhance real-time game viewing experiences such as this one in National Parks) user, stumbled upon a herd of elephants on Kukuma Drive, Pilanesberg National Park.  The herd was walking towards Ruighoek Dam, approximately 600 metres away. 

It was 3pm, and before arriving on this scene, they were enjoying a slush puppy at the Pilanesberg Centre. He explains, “I received a ting on my app about a leopard. It was an immediate rush for us to the car. And off we went.” But along the way they came across the herd! And now they were left with an important decision - the leopard, or the elephants…?

“I would say that there were about 15 elephants, and due to not seeing many throughout our weekend expeditions, apart from a few lone bulls here and there, the decision suddenly seemed logical,” says Michael.

And so they followed the elephants! Michael says, “Quickly, we drove to the hide to wait!” Anticipating their arrival from the hide, it wasn’t long, and they could hear a rumble amidst the bushes, and the rustle of grass. The gentle giants had arrived!
The herd marched towards the water, and with their trunks, they sprayed water into their mouths. Michael says, “It was then that it seemed as if one of the bulls told a sexist joke! Suddenly, and on cue, all the females and calves departed! They were now grazing about 200m away.”
Screen Shot 2016 02 18 at 10 50 55 AM
The males however, remained at the water’s edge where they played, pushed, and swam - trunks high with ears flapping. Michael says, “It was evident that the bulls were in musth.' Musth is a periodic condition in bull elephants characterised by highly aggressive behaviour and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones. According to the bush guide “Beat About the Bush”, musth first becomes prevalent for very short periods of time in elephants in their early twenties. As they get older musth occurs more frequently, and lasts for longer periods. It establishes itself best in bulls of 30-40 years!

Michael says, “There was one particular bull who persisted in resting his trunk on the backs of the other bulls. And it seemed as though he wanted to mount one of them.”

Research indicates that various forms of homosexual behaviour is found throughout the animal kingdom. As of 1999, about 500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, have been documented engaging in same-sex behaviors. And according to the organizers of the 2006 Against Nature exhibit, it has been observed in 1 500 species, including elephants. It is not uncommon for same-sex in both males and females, where they engage in bonding and mounting.

“I immediately reached for my camera,” says Michael, “And started filming. I knew the bull was going to do something”! As indicated in the clip the bull started pushing the younger bull about, and after winning the sparing match, he did exactly what Michael had suspected - he mounted the elephant!
elie mount

Michael says, “First I giggled, and then I was astonished at what I was seeing. Thereafter the bulls carried on with their daily routine. They played a bit more in the water, and then left to join the females. Following a further 10 minute graze the entire herd disappeared into the bush, leaving behind a 'hide' of astonished onlookers, some even blushing.”  

Michael concludes, “The decision to follow the elephants over finding the leopard may not be the one most people would make.  But remember, it is not always about the beauty of the animal that makes a sighting special, but rather the extraordinary interaction that they can portray.”

Commentary and videography by Michael Bowles
Written by Tracy Burrows

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