The Mourning Elephants
During our Botswana holiday we had the privilege to witness a rare event and we are grateful that we could observe this interesting and moving display of social behaviour amongst African Elephants.
We were on our way back from Kasane to Ihaha campsite on the 28th of October 2016 at about noon. We stopped and spent some time at the Chobe River observing lots of elephant family groups. It was quite hot and the elephants came down to the river to drink water or have a refreshing and enjoyable mud-bath. Two other vehicles were also viewing the elephants on that very spot. After a while the others left but we decided to stay and take more pictures of this entertaining scenery.
All of a sudden we became aware of a female elephant behaving differently and to us the behaviour looked odd. She appeared weak and her movements were unusual. She went down on her knees but after a little while she got up again. We continued to watch the others playing and mud-bathing. Suddenly we heard a noise and the elephant lady was lying on her side on the ground not moving anymore. Other elephants became aware of her, turned their heads and stretched out their trunks towards her. After a short moment they walked to her, came very close and helped her up by using their feet and trunks. As she was nearly standing again the others pushed her towards the water’s edge. However, the elephant was so weak that she collapsed again, this time with a bloodcurdling scream, close to the river-bank. It seemed to us that the other elephants were trying to motivate her to drink some water but we could not see if she was able to do so. We did not observe any further movements for a while and it appeared to us that the elephant had died. At that moment all the elephants nearby turned towards the dying elephant, stopped whatever they were busy with and looked at it. We felt almost as if the elephants were saying farewell. The whole atmosphere changed and everything was completely still and silent for a moment. Even the little elephants stopped playing. We have no sense how long this moment lasted but it was very intense and overwhelming. After some time the elephants continued with whatever they were busy with before apart from the group close to the dead elephant. They stayed much longer and stretched their trunks towards her and it seemed to us as if they continued to examine the dead body. After a while this group moved on as well, except for one elephant. One stayed behind and trickled water with its trunk over the body of the dead elephant. We eventually had to go back to our campsite leaving the scene with this elephant standing guard over the dead elephant lady. A picture we will certainly never forget. This scene was an overwhelming and very emotional moment for the both of us. Back home in Johannesburg we did some research and became aware of how special this observation was; even so it was a very sad event.