Nature’s corner – Beloved giant finds peace

The remains of the infamous and beloved elephant bull of Pilanesberg National Park, Amarula, were found in the park on 8 February this year. He was estimated to be 65 years old and as far as could be ascertained, he died of natural causes. African elephants living in the wild rarely get older than 70 years.

Any internet search will yield a lot of footage of Amarula’s interaction with cars. The most sensational incident took place in 2011 when he overturned a Volkswagen Polo. After that, he tackled vehicles fairly regularly and in the process gave tourists and their guides the fright of a lifetime.

The Pilanesberg National Park was proclaimed in 1979. By means of a project called Operation Genesis, approximately 6 000 wild animals were relocated to the park. This included young elephants orphaned after culling operations. For understandable reasons, the elephants were aggressive towards humans and when entire family groups of elephants were later introduced, the group of orphans did not join them at all, but remained aloof. In the wild, older and larger bulls would have disciplined the younger elephants, but in the absence of such authority figures, the group started behaving more bizarrely. They first started bullying the other elephants and later even attacked rhinos and cars. Forty rhinos and a tourist were killed in the attacks. It was decided that adult elephants would have to be relocated to the park to manage the youngsters. Six large bulls were therefore brought to Pilanesberg from the Kruger National Park in 1998 with enormous effort – the first time that such large animals had ever been relocated. Amarula was one of them. The plan worked ‒ the young elephants stopped killing rhinos and vehicles were somewhat safer. That is until Amarula started playing with cars himself ‒ fortunately without seriously injuring people. What happened to their hearts and blood pressure in the process, is another story.

The announcement of his death by the Pilanesberg National Park and Wildlife Trust on Facebook caused huge reaction. People shared both their beautiful and their heart-stopping memories of the old giant. Aside from his amazing tusks, his blunt tail was a characteristic by which he could easily be identified.

An interesting fact is that no elephant has ever been killed by poachers in this park. The misbehaviour of the young elephants also serves as a sad reminder of how people’s interference in nature, even when accompanied by the most beautiful intentions, may have tragic consequences.

Amarula has gone to rest after a long and eventful life, but the stories about him will live on for many years to come.

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