Goodbye, old friend

2009-02-13 00:00

Kruger National Park — Tourists watched in tears as an elephant bull bade farewell to its “friend”, the deceased bull Alexander.

The bull tried to chase vultures and hyenas away from Alexander’s carcass and even tried to pick him up.

Alexander, one of the Kruger National Park’s largest elephants and a familiar sight in the area around the Mopani Rest Camp, died last weekend, apparently of a heart attack.

Tourists parked near the carcass watched as an elephant bull arrived there and tried to lift up its friend. The carcass was about 20 metres away from the main road.

“I don’t know whether he was saying goodbye or whether he was trying to wake him,” said Susan Andjelkovac, an honorary game ranger.

The bull first chased the hyenas and the vultures away. He then tried to manoeuvre his big tusks under Alexander’s head. During one of the attempts, one of Alexander’s tusks nearly pierced one of the bull’s eyes.

By then, game reserve personnel had already removed Alexander’s heart and lungs for examination, and the scavengers had also got stuck into the approximately six tons of meat.

Andjelkovac relates: “The bull sniffed and touched Alexander all over with its trunk. When it could not lift Alexander, it went and sat down on top of him. It even urinated on him.

“I cried so much. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen something like this. I can’t get it out of my mind. A guy in a car next to me and my sister-in-law asked us with much concern whether we were okay, we were crying so much.”

After trying for about half an hour to get Alexander up, the elephant bull suddenly left. It later appeared that he had just gone to have a drink of water, as he was back again a little while later.

Another 15 minutes later, he seemed to realise that his old pal would not be able to get up again.

He then placed his trunk over the spine of the carcass and stood dead still for about a minute before disappearing into the trees.

That evening in the camp, some of the women said they had not seen such passionate love for a friend in a long time. They said that everyone — men, women and children — “bawled their eyes out”.

Alexander’s grieving “friend” broke off one of the dead elephant bull’s tusks with one tug, while a team of workers took 45 minutes to pull the other one out.

Game ranger Johann Oelofse told what happened when they arrived to remove the tusks.

“He [the ‘friend’] first chased off a bunch of vultures before rubbing up against Alexander’s body. Then he took the tusk between his own trunk and tusk and there was a crack as he pulled the tusk out..’’

The tusks will be stored in the ivory safe at Skukuza.

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