Amarula and his friends

Amarula and his friends

Jann-Rick, a Tshukudu ranger is elephant obsessed. “I have been doing research on the Pilanesberg’s elephants for 16 years,” he said. “These elephants are special.” Before every game drive he asks his guests if they are scared of elephants. He does this because one of his favourite pastimes is to have elephants walk up to his vehicle. “These elephants are chilled. But there is one elephant that I don’t trust. Amarula.”

Amarula is the biggest bull elephant in the Pilanesberg and has the peculiar habit of using cars as chairs. “I don’t get close to him. He could look calm but would then just walk up to a car and turn it over. Or sit on it.” Years ago, Amarula turned over a car in anger and then realised cars are not a threat and are easy to manipulate. Since then it seems he has been turning them over for fun. “But I love that elephant. He is now 58 years old and very thin. Elephants only live for about 60 years, so yesterday when I saw him, I thought – this could be the last time I ever see him.” Amarula and the other five bull elephants came to the Pilanesberg to do a job. Their mission: to discipline the ‘Lords of the Flies’.

In 1979, when the Pilanesberg National Park was proclaimed, 6 000 animals were introduced into the park. The project was called Operation Genesis and at the time, it was the largest translocation project ever done. With this project they introduced young elephants who had been orphaned because of culling in the Kruger National Park. These orphans formed large groups and were secretive and aggressive towards humans. Later, when families of elephants were introduced, most of the original ones integrated into these families. But because large elephant bulls were never introduced during Operation Genesis, the younger bulls started acting strangely.


There were no larger bulls to discipline them and they caused havoc, bullying younger elephants and trying to force females to mate with them. These bulls also went into musth 10 years earlier than elephants normally do. Because of this and since no elephant cow would mate with them as they were too young, they became even more aggressive, and started attacking rhino and cars out of sexual frustration. They killed 40 rhinos and one tourist. The only solution was to introduce fully grown bulls from Kruger. This was difficult because bulls can weigh over six tons. Despite the difficulties, six large bulls were introduced in 1997. The project was a success and the bull elephants disciplined the younger elephants. The rhino killing stopped and they were less aggressive towards cars. One of these introduced bulls was Amarula. So, although he helped stop the younger bulls from harming rhino and tourist cars, he did pick up some bad habits from the delinquents along the way. Like sitting on cars.

Photo story: Heinrich van den Berg

This story was taken from Pilanesberg Self-Drive

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