An Afternoon at the Chobe River

Botswana has the largest population of elephants in the world at 130,000 individuals. It is in the center of Southern Africa, and landlocked.

Elephant populations, as most people are aware, are struggling for survival. This species of elephant, the African bush elephant, is endangered.

We had the fortune of observing many elephants on land while there, and then one special day we watched three bulls in a face-off in the middle of the Chobe River.

All photos here are taken in one area of the Chobe on one afternoon.

It was the dry season (early August), a time when elephants gather here for the water.

Plenty of other wildlife congregate at the river, too. Cape Buffaloes, Storks, Zebra, Warthogs and more.

Below is the goliath heron, the world’s largest heron with a wingspan of over 6 feet (2 m). There’s a cormorant in the grass, too.

More info:

Botswana Wikipedia

Chobe River Wikipedia

Chobe National Park Wikipedia

A male elephant is known to drink 60 gallons of water a day, and as much as 26 gallons of water at a time. So this is prime real estate–lots of water in a landlocked country.

As we were slowly cruising along on the river, we came upon three bull elephants in a territorial dispute. Our guide cut the engine and we quietly floated, watched for about 15 minutes.

It all started when one bull left the shore and walked deep into the middle of the river.

When a second bull followed, and then another, the Lead Bull became agitated.

After a few minutes, the agitated Lead Bull turned around and shook his gargantuan head and raised his trunk, demonstrating his dominance.

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.  Flaring ears, trumpeting and lots of kicked-up dust. Usually the taller one dominates, especially if his tusks are bigger. 

We didn’t know what to expect with the bulls so deeply surrounded by water.

The Lead Bull turned around several times, to scare them off, but the other two did not relent. 

Then he turned and faced them, walked directly to the closest bull. 

They pressed heads…twisted trunks…locked tusks.

There was a lot of big splashing and occasionally one head or another slipped under the water.

It was very exciting and a little intimidating being nearby. Three angry bull elephants duking it out. I wondered if one of them might drown the other?

But this wasn’t a television nature program with days of film footage and accompanying, escalating music. This was real life–15 minutes on the Chobe where there was currently plenty of water for everyone.

Somewhat anticlimactically, the two bulls retreated back to shore and the Lead Bull crossed the river alone.

After the elephants had settled their tiff, our guide started up the engine and off we went.

I wouldn’t say peace was restored with all the crocodiles lining the shore, but the drama had subsided for the moment.

To me, it was as dreamy as life gets.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.


64 thoughts on “An Afternoon at the Chobe River

  1. What a sentence: “I wouldn’t say peace was restored with all the crocodiles lining the shore,…” You think? This was a gripping tale – to be floating on the water and so close to that trio of fighting Elephants, and to have the presence of mind to keep the camera engaged! Did the bull elephant make that trumpeting sound I’ve read about? And I’m delighted that you saw and photographed the Goliath Heron. They look amazing, so pink! Excellent gripping commentary and photos!

    • I was glad you had the chance to stop by today, babsje, because I thought that the goliath heron would appeal to you. And I am happy you enjoyed the Chobe River Afternoon post. It is such an incredible place. Yes, I have heard trumpeting elephants but the three on the river that day were not trumpeting. They make lots of sounds, like rumbling, but there were no sounds made that day on the river and I’m guessing it had something to do with the water. Thanks so much for your lovely post. I hope you are doing well, especially with your eyes.

      • Thanks again, Jet. A dear friend is taking her children and grandkids to Botswana this summer for a milestone birthday and I’ll be sending your blog post along to her. And you’re right – that Goliath Heron is a beauty – one I wish I could see in person. Speaking of seeing, many thanks for your thought wishes for my eyesight.

  2. From hummingbirds on one end of the size scale to elephants on the other, so many of the behaviors are similar. Whether it’s a battle for dominance or simple feistiness, it’s something to see. I’m glad you were able to witness this elephant activity, and I’m glad you shared it with us.

    • Yes, you are so right, Linda, so many animals have similar behavior; and it is a joy to watch it unfold before us. I appreciate your warm words here today and am happy you enjoyed the elephant spectacle. My warmest thanks.

  3. What an amazing adventure. There was such a diverse cast of characters and plenty of action. The bull fight sequence is incredible–I suppose the male elephants vie for dominance all of the time, but doing so in the water adds another level of interest. I loved the bird shots–I am used to seeing herons and kingfishers, but certainly not these varieties. The animals that really one my heart, though, have to be the baby elephants–they seem so small and cute when surrounded by the enormous adults.

    • Wonderful to have you stop by, Mike, and to hear your observations and comments. Elephants are a true joy to watch no matter what they’re doing, but you’re right, the babies have an especially attractive way about them. Just learning what to do with their trunk and their little gait sometimes like a hop, and oh so cute next to the gigantic adults. Even the babies are not very small, as you can imagine. My warmest thanks…enjoyed your lady’s slipper photos today….

    • Yes, I agree, rabirius, all those beautiful animals and the elephants all along this small stretch of river. Happy to share them with you today, thanks for stopping by.

  4. Incredible experience and fabulous photos. To see this elephant encounter is lucky on a safari – excellent storytelling, as always. Thanks for taking me back to Botswana, Jet. A truly life-changing trip! 🐘🐘🐘

    • Gosh, Walt, the African mammals and birds all along the Chobi River, so incredible. It is really a joy to share the photos and adventure with you. Thanks very much.

    • I enjoyed your comment, Eliza. We do have some grand adventures. As you know, there are grand adventures in so many places, close to home and not. A pleasure to share the Chobi River adventure with you, thanks very much.

    • Isn’t that pied kingfisher a beauty, Hien? I’m glad you liked it. Sometimes, in just the right light, the black markings on it are actually deep purple. And of course, also fun to share the fighting elephants and others. Thank you for your visit and kind words.

  5. Such drama! What a thrill for you both, unedited and in real time. I laughed when you then cut to the crocodiles – frying pan and fire?! Anyway, the elephants are grey beauties, along with the other birds and beasts, all in a remarkable setting.
    Great stuff as always – thanks, Jet!

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the Chobe River adventure, pc, and of course I love knowing what emotions it evokes…like the laugh. You got the paradox that is wild Africa…frying pan and fire…and what a joy to share it all with you. Warm thanks and a big smile to you….

  6. How exciting! Thank you for sharing this event with us. I love elephants. I am currently watching a National Geographic documentary on elephants called Secrets of Elephants. I find it fascinating. Check it out if you get a chance. It’s on the National Geographic Channel.

    • Oh, I will check it out, LuAnne, thank you. They are truly fascinating animals, so advanced. Elephants are matriarchal, too, and one of my favorite things to observe of them is watching the females standing together, with “little” ones weaving in and out. Thanks for your visits today, much enjoyed.

  7. We do tend to get caught up in drama as presented in documentaries, but as you rightly point out, it’s different in real life. In a way, even more dramatic, if you are close to the action.

    • Yes, it is definitely more dramatic to be there in real life, Eilene. In Africa there is always so much going on with lots of animals, drama everywhere. Thank you.

  8. What beautiful country and animals capable of sharing the water. 60 gallons of water is a lot but then he has a built in straw! :)😎

    • I enjoyed your fun comment, Bill. Yes, that built-in straw is a great tool for an elephant. Thanks so much for your visit, your interest in my posts every week is much appreciated.

  9. Wow! Very suspenseful! It’s one thing to watch it from the comfort of your living room, but another being so up-close-and-personal in a little boat! I enjoyed reading it… from the comfort of my safe computer room!

    • Well then it is wonderful that I could bring you the elephant drama, dear Nan. The suspense without the worries. My warmest thanks, as always, for your visit.

    • Thank you, Belinda. Yes, we were thrilled to have observed the elephants sparring in the depths of the water, a unique experience. Thanks for your kind words.

    • It WAS a fantastic thing…and I’m glad I could share the Chobe magic with you, Deborah. Thank you for your delightfully enthusiastic comment, much appreciated.

  10. This post is chock full of goodness from lands far away – quite entertaining. Clearly I am biased to those intriguing birds, but the elephant encounter is amazing. Note, I saw those zebras crossing the water and immediately wondered about the gators – your last shot put that question to bed ha. I’ve seen my share of kingfishers, but that “pied” variety is one of the coolest I’ve seen – quite the dagger it has there. Thanks for letting us tag along Jet!

    • Always a pleasure to have you stop by, Brian, your comments are much appreciated. That pied kingfisher is really special because the dark part is actually purple if you catch it in the right light. Thanks so much for joining us at the Chobe.

    • Yes, it is good to see the wildlife have so much water from the Chobe River. I’m glad you enjoyed the super goliath heron and other wildlife here, Amy. Thanks very much.

    • Oh how I loved this comment, Sylvia. You have me smiling. It is part of life of earth, I think, that sometimes we “cannot escape locking horns and going under.” Lovely words, my friend, and many thanks.

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