Elephants just wanna have fun …

9

Recently in the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia I spent an hilarious half-hour or so with a young elephant bull who, it appeared to all of us who witnessed it, simply wanted to have fun entertaining the humans.

Elephants are, in my mind, among the most expressive and interesting of all animals by far. And while many (if not most) animal scientists would have us avoid being anthropomorphical about animals – in other words don’t attribute human characteristics, emotions, behaviour traits etc to animals – I really believe that even anyone who has simply owned a pet dog or cat will honestly aver that these animals certainly do have emotions. Who can say their pet has never shown happiness, sadness, contriteness, anger, annoyance or irritation…?

Fortunately, the world of animal behaviour studies is being increasingly populated by more scientists with an open mind (many have pointed to the fact that there are now more women in the field, and that women are more perceptive to subtle nuances in mood and behaviour) and scientists like the legendary Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole and others who have specialised in elephants will certainly agree with me when I say elephants more than any other species certainly show very typical and recognisable human behaviour traits.

Wildlife authors & photographers Daryl Balfour and his wife Sharna have been running exclusive photographic safaris in many parts of Africa for many years. Contact them – they would love to welcome you to one of their up coming camps. © www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

Wildlife authors & photographers Daryl Balfour and his wife Sharna have been running exclusive photographic safaris in many parts of Africa for many years. Contact them – they would love to welcome you to one of their up coming camps.
© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

Meanwhile, back to our young bull by the river, With a performance that immediately earned him the name Oscar, he displayed a repertoire unlike anything I have ever seen in a wild, untrained elephant! Certainly it was a virtuoso act that had my group of guests enthralled, giggling, laughing … and gasping.

We’d left camp in the late afternoon for a river cruise on a small tributary of the Zambezi, the Chongwe River, and after dodging hippos, watching baboons along the riverside, and photographing several other elephants crossing the river in the early evening golden light, were about to relax with a sundowner drink when we saw the young bull making his way down to the water’s edge.

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

After watching us briefly, he entered the water and waded across to a small island mid-stream, where he emerged with quite a theatrical climb up a steep albeit small bank. He then turned and faced us and gave several dramatic shakes of his head, flapping his ears vigorously. Impressive stuff, entertaining, great pics – but nothing unusual or unexpected.

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He then made a few brief and exaggerated runs down the length of the little island, shooing away several cattle egrets with great flourishes of his trunk … which earned him quite a few chuckles from the now enthralled audience.Oscar seemed to enjoy the response he garnered, for he then turned to face us where we sat drifting languidly in the narrow channel, stood staring intently for a few moments … and then decided to give us the Full Monty!

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© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

Stepping down the small bank into the river with his forelegs, he sunk to his haunches and lowered his body to the ground so he was literally lying on his belly with his front legs dangling in the water. He then proceeded to flail his trunk about, squeezing its tip closed and squirting water out in different directions, and even closing it enough that the water he sprayed was little more than a fine mist.

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

It was extraordinary behaviour, unlike anything I’d ever experienced in more than 30 years photographing and following elephants, and he seemed to enjoy the response he was getting. The more and louder we laughed, the more he seemed to get up to. When I thought the show was over, he astounded me by rolling over onto his side, swishing his trunk in the water…and flailing his legs in the air!

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

What was totally evident to me then, as well as reviewing my images afterwards, was that he had his eyes fixed on us the whole time. Even when he was not facing us directly, like when he was lying on his side, his eyes were swiveled forward and focused on us, his audience. And I’d swear he had a big grin on his face too!

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

Rising to his feet again, Oscar once more gave us a good head-shake, then turned his attentions back to the egrets who’d settled on the small island. He rushed towards them, flailing his trunk and trumpeting loudly, sending the poor birds scattering in every direction. Then he’d turn back to face us, as though awaiting the applause. Which he certainly got from the appreciative audience…along with the staccato bursts of cameras rattling off multiple frames a second!

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

 

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

Once more he came to the water’s edge – we were literally only 10-15m from him on our boat – and repeated the whole performance, lowering himself to the ground, flailing and splashing and spraying with his trunk, flopping over on his side, lying outstretched totally relaxed as if gaining his breath or thoughts – or planning his next display!

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

And what a fitting grand finale it was. Rising to his feet once more, and by then having spent at least 20 minutes entertaining us, he stood tall, ears spread…and stepped down off the island into the water right in front of us. I heard a few gasps from my guests behind me (I was lying prone in the bow of the boat) as Oscar shook his head “threateningly” and then made a sudden dart forward with a huge splash in our direction. Water sprayed everywhere and for good effect he added a spurt from his trunk. He shook his head, “stood tall” and trumpeted loudly. Here we go again, I thought, expecting a good dousing of water as he once more made a quick little “charge” and splashed even more water in my direction. I heard the scuffle of feet as the folks behind me backed further towards the rear of the boat and urged them softly to “relax, he’s only playing…enjoy the moment”.

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar put on this little display about 6 or 7 times, each time coming a little closer, making even bigger splashes…but seemingly making sure the water itself did not quite reach us in the boat even though by this stage he was perhaps only a few metres from the bow.

© www.darylbalfour.com / www.wildphotossafaris.com

Then, as though expecting the curtain to fall, he backed up, stepping backwards carefully and even reversing up the river bank until he’s retreated on to solid ground where, with a dramatic flourish in the falling darkness, he shook his head several more times before turning and disappearing backstage!

It was one of the most astounding displays I have ever experienced from a wild elephant … and there was nobody in my group who had any conclusion other than that Oscar was putting on a performance for us, that he was perhaps getting as much satisfaction from entertaining us, from our giggles, chuckles and outright loud laughs.

This was certainly one elephant who just wanted to have fun!

Wildlife authors & photographers Daryl Balfour and his wife Sharna have been running exclusive photographic safaris in many parts of Africa for many years. Contact them – they would love to welcome you to one of their up coming camps.

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About Author

Daryl Balfour (Delta Bravo) was born and raised in South Africa. He spent many childhood holidays in the company of wildlife conservationists such as the legendary Dr Ian Player, and along with his wife Sharna has been a professional wildlife photographer and safari guide since 1986. Daryl's photography is represented by some of the leading photo agencies worldwide, and along with Sharna he has published more than a dozen wildlife coffee-table books and countless magazine articles. Daryl has guided safaris throughout East, West and Southern Africa as well as Canada, Alaska and Antarctica, and enjoys sharing his photographic knowledge and skills with his guests. Apart from our set departures, Daryl specializes in arranging and leading private safaris for small groups or families throughout Africa.

9 Comments

  1. An amazing experience and thank you for sharing Oscar’s Show.
    Kind Regards,
    John
    PS Do you possibly know my son-in-law Michel Girardin and daughter Clare?

  2. Hi Daryl,
    Thank you so much for sharing your photos of this handsome animal.
    They put a large smile on my face.

  3. Hello Daryl,
    Those pictures you have taken took my breath away. They are so amazing and extra ordinary. Specially when an Elephant behaves in such active & happy mood it is mesmerizing and pleasing to the onlookers as well. I hope & also pray that people will realize that how Majestic & magnificent these Elephants are. Let any one ‘shoot’ them with a Camera & NOT with the bullet.
    Thank You

  4. Gary Hamdorf on

    Great/excellent photos Delta, makes me wish I was there with you in Zambia, as well as the trip Iam doing in the Mara with you in August.

    Each time I go to Africa it gets hard to come home, and you pictures show me why I love Africa.

  5. Jenny Grinstead on

    Is it possible that Oscar was experiencing being in “musk” for the first time? Wonderful photos, and so many unique ‘poses’ from Oscar. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Jenny, No, Oscar was not in or coming into musth (not musk)…he genuinely appeared to be intent on being entertaining. Just another example of how intelligent these sentient creatures can be.

  6. Lynne Hunter on

    Beautiful photos enabling us all to share in this wonderful and unique experience. They certainly left me feeling very happy and privileged. Thanks, Daryl. Thanks, Peter.

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