Seeing a car reversing over a blind rise ahead of us in the Pilanesburg, I got excited at what was likely chasing him. He stopped to confirm, “a large elephant is chasing me”.
I parked side on, readied for the quick getaway and lined up my camera. More exciting than the what, was the who. I couldn’t believe my luck as I saw Amarula, likely South Africa’s most iconic elephant, cresting the hill. The sun broke below the clouds to quickly bath him in warm light, just before he got too close for comfort. Amarula died on 8 February 2022, suspected of old age, he was estimated at 65 years old. He was a colossus and a legend.

Detail (if you wish to read on)

As I’m sure you are aware, Amarula, probably South Africa’s most iconic elephant passed away earlier this year.

I have always visualized a shot of a big elephant cresting a hill above me to the true stature of these majestic giants in an image. I was in the Pilanesburg the same week that Mavuso, another legendary elephant of Pilanesburg was killed in a fight. I knew that he was one of the original elephants introduced into the Park to restore order to the younger bulls but didn’t fully know the story. I researched him that night as well as the other 5 elders who were introduced.

In 1979, over 6000 animals were introduced to the Pilanesburg National Park in what was know as “Operation Genesis”. As fully grown elephants were hard to transport, many young orphaned elephants were introduced. Due to the complex social structures and without older bull elephants being present, many young bull elephants entered sexual maturity unusually early. There may have arguably been some trauma as well from being orphaned. This lead many adolescent bulls to cause havoc, flipping cars and killing multiple rhinos. It was decided that big mature bull elephants needed to be introduced to restore order. Normally young bulls are kicked out of matriarchal breeding herds where they then join up with older males. They provide the big bull with protection and he provides them with mentorship which the matriarch provides her family. There were six mature bills which were introduce in 1998 from the Kruger National Park to restore order to the land of the flies. One elephant stood out, Amarula. He was the tallest of these elephants and a huge tusker to boot.

Amarula became famous for crushing and flipping the occasional car himself, featuring in many a YouTube video.

The next day, we headed out for our afternoon game drive and as we neared a steep hill and blind rise in the road, a BMW came reversing over the hill at a fair amount of speed. I guessed what may be happening and I quickly stopped him to confirm. He told me a massive elephant was chasing him down the road. I parked our car side on, ready for a quick turnaround and got my camera ready. To my surprise, not only was it a big elephant cresting the hill and towering over us below, it was the iconic Amarula. The light was terrible with stormy clouds in the background and he came charging over the hill with his ears firmly pinned back. As he got almost too close for comfort, the sun dipped below the clouds on the horizon, his ears blew forward and I managed a couple quick shots before we too had to hightail it out of there. We parked up on a parallel road and watched him across the valley torment the cars for a few kilometres.

I got home and downloaded my shots, thinking about Mavuso’s passing in the days before and that Amarula too was getting on, thinking I might have captured my best and probably last shot of this legend.

Icons like Amarula not only restore order to their direct ecosystem, their impact transcends their species, inspiring us all to conserve.

Thanks so much,