Sparring Elephants

Male elephant crossing the Chobe River, Botswana

Male elephant crossing the Chobe River, Botswana

We were on a small boat cruising Africa’s Chobe River.  Usually you see the wild elephants on dry land, or at watering holes…but not with their 12,000 pound bodies half-submerged in a river.  The guide said they were agitated.


It was the dry season, a time when elephants are especially abundant here.  When their usual drinking spots are dried up, herds are known to travel 200 miles to this river.


Chobe-Elephants,-onto-NamibThere were three bull elephants having a territorial argument.  A male elephant is known to drink 60 gallons of water a day, and as much as 26 gallons of water at a time.  With that kind of thirsty water intake, you can imagine the territoriality that these massive beasts, the largest land animals on earth, must possess.  The three bulls were in single file crossing the river, and the Lead Bull didn’t like it.  He wanted the other bulls to bug off.  Our boat idled on the outskirts, waiting to see what would happen.


Over a period of a half hour the Lead Bull left the shore and got deeper and deeper into the water.  Then Bull #2 and Bull #3 followed.  The Lead Bull turned around and shook his head and raised his trunk, i.e., he told the other two to scram.  Sparring elephants on land confront each other by raising their heads as high as possible; they also swat and spar one another with their tusks or trunks.  Usually the taller one dominates, especially if his tusks are bigger.  We didn’t know what to expect with the bulls so deeply submerged.


Elephants sparring, Chobe River, Botswana

Elephants sparring, Chobe River, Botswana

The Lead Bull turned around several times, to scare them off, but the other two did not relent.  Then he turned and lumbered toward them.  After a few more minutes the Lead Bull didn’t back down and went directly to the closest bull.  They pressed their heads together, twisted their trunks a few times, and splashed about.


Eventually Bull #2 and then Bull #3 retreated and the dominant one proceeded.  He jubilantly crossed the river on his own, leaving the other two behind.  This argument had been settled.



Chobe River, Zebra crossing from Botswana into Namibia

Meanwhile the zebra continued to graze on the shoreline, the strong wind blew our boat back a bit, the wading birds fluttered along the river’s edge.  Our guide started up the motor and off we went.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander




50 thoughts on “Sparring Elephants

  1. Oh, how interesting! I love elephants! We have many of them here in India, they are considered to be very auspicious because of the elephant God Ganesh. Thank you for telling me about the African elephants! ❤

  2. 26 gallons each time, wow! There must be a lot of flights for water among them. Really enjoyed reading the info and viewing these photos. Thank you, Jet! 🙂

  3. What a wonderful experience seeing the elephants in the water . The elephants I saw in Africa only stood under trees having a “mine is bigger than yours” contest. Males, doesn’t matter what species, they all seem to be cut from the same cloth, lol! 😉

  4. Jet what an experience to see that water confrontation between these giant elephants. I actually had goosebumps reading it. The photo of the two elephants facing off gives a sense of that immense power struggle. Wonderful post.

    • It was certainly gripping to watch, I am delighted you got the sense of that, Sue. Interesting to see these powerful animals in the midst of a power struggle while situated in the strong river force. No room for wimps in that scene…ha. Thanks ever so for your kind words, Sue. 😀

  5. I would have found it unnerving to watch three 12,000-lb. elephants arguing – and would have felt relieved when the wind blew the boat back! I am grateful to be able to experience these things thru you and Athena.

    • They’re just so huge, it’s easy to get unnerved by elephants. One time our group was sleeping in tents when the elephants walked through our camp. They crushed and fell trees wherever they walked! Fortunately we had Maasai guards and they ran after the elephants with fire torches, something the elephants fear. Whew! A total pleasure to chat, dear Nan. 🙂 ❤️

  6. That’s the daily live of the giant of Africa, along with his herd. But not everything is happiness, they also go through hard times once in a while. They are beautiful creatures! Thanks for the nice post Jet! 🙂

    • I was using a 100-400 zoom lens and we got so close I had to back off full zoom to 200 to keep both elephants in the frame, so the length was plenty for showing the action. The joy of Africa is there are so many big animals to photograph! AA

  7. Incredible elephant photos dear Jet!It must be really thrilling to be able to witness those wonderful elephant disputes and conflicts on a most vital issue!They were agitated and unquiet,as if they have feelings like us;to be honest,I strongly believe that every living being,animals or plants,have feelings,and a lot of scientific experiments are made to prove it.Stunning post once again,I so much enjoy the different animal societies and the norms they set.You have my love and my admiration for your work,as always my wonderful friend!Enjoy your day 🙂 ❤ xxx

    • I have had so many wonderful experiences watching wildlife, like anyone who takes the time to stop and listen and observe nature. And it is such a thrill when you get the opportunity to receive the messages from a wild animal. Of course it’s always hoped that it’s a friendly message…. ;D Thank you so much, dear Doda, for your thoughtful comment and kind words. I hope you are still enjoying your Easter vacation. 😀 😀

  8. It is so exciting to come across wildlife when you can catch the interaction between them, must have been an exciting moment watching the sparring!

    • Oh yes, it was so very exciting. We were on the boat to observe birds and had the joy of seeing many birds as well as the elephants. Many thanks for your comments Inger. 🙂

  9. What a privilege to witness something like this! I didn’t have the time to go to Chobe when I was in Botswana 😦 but have seen lots of elephants in other countries in East Africa, but never a dispute like this! Great post.

    • Elephants are very fascinating to observe, I have enjoyed the prominence they have held on your blog, Sriram. I love watching all elephants in any configuration, but my favorite is watching the females of the group with a youngster or two. I am warmed by your visit and comment, my friend, and appreciate learning that elephants motivated you to photograph. 🙂

  10. Love elephants – we have figurines all over our house since I can’t have the real thing. LOL! My first children’s book was about an elephant. It is awful for the elephants with water scarce. It turns into a fight for survival. Enjoyed this post. Thank you for stopping by my blog.

    • Elephants are so delightful, I agree. Thanks so much for your comment and visit, Janice. I enjoy posts, reading about your books and others’ books too. 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s