Sharing Air with Ezulwini

How close is too close? In this blog, Victoria shares an up-close and personal experience with the gentle giant of Pridelands.

Ezulwini is a majestic elephant bull who frequents Pridelands. His name, meaning ‘heavenly place’, could not be more fitting as any time spent in his presence can only be described as other-worldly, this much I know to be true. If you have watched the 26-second video that EcoTraining posted to their YouTube channel Up-close with an Elephant Bull #Shorts you might remember a girl exhibiting a smiley poker face, while an elephant invades her personal bubble. The two creatures featured in that video are myself and Ezulwini. If you haven’t watched the video, I recommend doing so before continuing.

Photograph © Victoria Craddock

After watching the video, I am willing to bet your reaction fits into one of the following three categories:

Category one is the nervous watcher, who panics at the thought of sharing the same air like a wild elephant. They utter sentiments along the lines of  “I would have been shedding pearls of sweat” or, even better “this person is crazy!”

  1. Category one is the nervous watcher, who panics at the thought of sharing the same air like a wild elephant. They utter sentiments along the lines of  “I would have been shedding pearls of sweat” or, even better “this person is crazy!”  (this I cannot dispute, haha).
  2. Category two is the person I call ‘kin to Tarzan’. They express a longing to be in the wild and hanker after experiences that connect them to the natural world, even experiences that should not be glamorized.
  3. Category three consists mainly of the informed and concerned. Sometimes frustration is expressed, and with reason. There is an uneasiness that is formed by the knowledge of how any wild situation could become dangerous.

Photograph © Victoria Craddock

All of these reactions are completely valid. Even so, they should be filtered with care as, like in all cases with media, the full story is much more colorful and comprehensive than captured by the video. In fact, as I write this blog, I am painfully aware that even the retelling of this event fails to do it any justice. Nevertheless, I shall try.

On this afternoon, Ezulwini had been hanging out with a group of elephant cows and his focus was primarily on them. Prior to the video being taken, we had spent what felt like hours, but in reality was about 45 minutes, observing the herd dynamics. This observation time allowed our guide, a man with more than a decade’s worth of experience in the wild, valuable insight into Ezulwini’s behavior and temperament. By observing the nuances in his body language, it was clear that this exquisite beast was very relaxed. Said guide positioned the vehicle a fair distance from the herd, no closer than 50m, anticipating where they would walk. True to his calculation, the group of cows approached parallel to the vehicle and passed us at a distance of about 20m, followed by Ezulwini, who was trailing behind them.

Photograph © Victoria Craddock

When Ezulwini was about 15m away and adjacent to the vehicle, he changed his trajectory and ambled over to investigate what we were, all the time exhibiting calm and unthreatening, yet simultaneously purposeful behavior. It must be noted that this behavior is not uncommon for this elephant, Ezulwini is a well-known and relaxed bull who is comfortable with vehicles. Having foreknowledge of ‘Uncle Ez’ and having studied the group dynamics, Steve made a calculated decision to stay stationary and remain unthreatening. Following the rhythm of the natural world, as quickly as it unfolded, it was over. Ezulwini decided that a bathroom break was in order, this gave Steve enough room to start the engine and increase the distance between us and our intimidating friend.

Make no mistake, our encounter with Ezulwini was one that is by no means the ‘norm’ when it comes to safari experiences. All three of us on the vehicle agree that an encounter of this nature must be handled with caution, sensitivity, and wisdom. Though it would be irresponsible to seek out or construct such encounters, on the rare occasion that they unfold organically, one cannot deny the profound gift of the interaction, nor neglect to appreciate the incredible intimacy of the moment.

EcoTraining Wildlife Highlights | Ezulwini

EcoTraining brings you another month of Highlights. This month we are focusing on the mightily Ezulwini. One of the last great tuskers to walk the Kruger National Park.

Learn more about these gentle giants in our EcoTraining Elephant Quiz: https://www.ecotraining.co.za/ecotraining-quiz-elephants/

About the Author: 

Victoria Craddock is a past Apprentice Field Guide student of EcoTraining and a freelance Blogger.