South Africa’s Kruger National Park is undoubtedly one of the best places on the entire continent to go on safari. The park is remote, wild and home to a dizzying array of species including lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes and countless others. With that many wild animals roaming freely about the preserve, visitors are practically guaranteed an unforgettable experience while there.
I was well aware of Kruger’s reputation long before I ever set foot in the park and yet nothing quite prepared me for the encounter I had with a big bull elephant while visiting the place a few years back. As you can see from the photo, the massive creature wasn’t wandering distant grasslands nor was he keeping himself hidden in one of Kruger’s numerous forests. Instead he decided to wander one of the main roads that bisect the park and as long as he was standing on the pavement, that road belonged to him.
At the time I was traveling with a group of fellow travel writers and after spending the better part of a day in a nearby village, we were returning to our safari camp on the Makuleke Concession inside the park. Speeding along in a small minivan we came around a bend in the road and found ourselves face-to-face with the enormous – and rather agitated – bull who was making his way towards us at a slow,but steady pace.
Upon spotting him, our driver immediately stopped the van and waited to see what the elephant would do. Undeterred, the creature pressed on, forcing us to put the van in reverse and back up multiple times just to stay out of his way. He seemed completely nonplussed that we were there, confident he could crush our small van with very little effort.
Knowing that the only other route back to our camp would take us miles out of our way, our driver was determined to find a way around the big bull. He told us that creature was relatively young, despite his massive size, and that he was most certainly “in the musk.” That meant that the amorous bull was on the lookout for a girlfriend and while in the mood for love, bull elephants tend to be extremely aggressive. Considering he was much larger than the van we were in, we thought it wise to give him a wide berth.
After a time, the elephant wandered off the road but stayed right along the shoulder, continuing to move towards us. At one point, he began to wander behind a tree, which was just large enough of an obstacle to buy us a few extra seconds of time to try to get past . The driver threw our van into gear and gunned the engine, but he was just a bit too slow and the now extremely annoyed elephant charged us with an angry gleam in his eye. Quickly applying the break and throwing the van into reverse once again, we narrowly avoided the creature and managed to put a little distance between him and our vehicle.
Minutes passed while we patiently waited for another opportunity. Eventually the bull wandered off the road once again, ambling behind yet another tree. This was the opening our driver was looking for and this time he was ready. The engine whined in protest as he threw it back into gear and bolted past the beast. True to form, the big bull shot out from behind the tree again, but this time we were committed. Either we were going to get past the animal or he was going to catch us square in the side of the van.
Over the high pitch squeal of the engine the cries of several of the travel writers could be heard as we blasted past the animal. A second later and he would have surely caught us, most likely knocking the van on its side. Instead, we zoomed past while a very large black eye peered into the side window of the van. We had made it, but just barely.
As we drove on down the road, we congratulated ourselves on finding a way out of that tricky situation, adrenaline running high. But if you look closely in the photo, you’ll notice another car. It was a small Volkswagen coming from the opposite direction. We left the driver of that car to deal with a very pissed-off pachyderm, who was now more agitated than ever. For all I know, that driver was forced to sit there for hours waiting for his own opportunity to sneak past the elephant. I did not envy him.