Apollo: An Emerging Tusker to Celebrate

By Chad Cocking

It had been a relatively quiet, chilly winter morning at Tanda Tula Safari Camp when I decided to stop for a warming cup of coffee. Upon starting up again, Antony radioed to tell me of a large elephant bull grazing out in the eastern part of the reserve, not too far from where I was.

He suggested that it might be a familiar bull named Classic, but as I had experienced a couple of close encounters with this large elephant bull when he was around in June, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic to go and have a look at him for fear of having to make another hasty retreat! However, when I heard that Antony was still viewing this elephant almost an hour later, I thought that it might be worth popping in to see him on the way back to camp.

As we were approaching the area where we had been told to look, we could already see the massive bull from a distance, but it was only when we drew closer that I realised that this was not Classic. To begin with, he didn’t have a radio collar (Classic is presently the longest studied elephant in Africa, and his movements within the Greater Kruger Park), but much more obviously, Classic has broken off his right tusk, and the bull we were now approaching still had two tusks; and both were enormous.

After getting into a good position to see this elephant in all of his glory, I soon recognised the individual as an old bull that visits the Timbavati every winter when he comes into musth, a period during the male elephants’ sexual cycle characterised by heightened levels of testosterone and usually an increase in aggression. Considering the number of cows in the breeding herds presently in the area, this large elephant’s choice of mating ground is no surprise.

Ironically, the main reason I was wanting to avoid the usually calm Classic was because of the very fact that he too has recently been in musth, but to my surprise, quite unlike Classic, today’s elephant bull was as calm as a cucumber, and didn’t pay the least bit of attention to our arrival. Sadly, my guests had to be back at camp early, so we had to pull ourselves away from this spectacular sighting prematurely, but I was so impressed with the sheer size of this elephant that after dropping the guests off at camp, I headed back out to try and find him again. Disappointingly, he had disappeared and I feared that that may have been my sole sighting of him this year.

Fast-forward several weeks, and I am happy to report that I was very, very wrong. Not only has this bull hung around for the entire period, but he was found to have been given an official research name: Apollo. Elephants do not usually get names for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are non-territorial so various elephants continuously roam in and out of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, and secondly, with several hundred of them in the area, it becomes quite difficult to distinguish one individual from another. However, elephants like Apollo do not come around every day, and other than his uniquely tattered ears, the mere size of his tusks make him a perfect candidate to become a rare named individual.

I am sure that it is not long before he finds his way onto the official list of Kruger National Park’s emerging tuskers. A hidden benefit of discovering his name is that now guides can simply say I have found Apollo over the radio, rather than the long-winded 'I have found a massive elephant, with a massive pair of tusks'. Sometimes it’s the little things that make me happy!

This makes the presence of Apollo even more special, and it is for this very reason that we are exceptionally fortunate that successful conservation practices in the Kruger National Park, and indeed the Timbavati, have allowed elephants to be conserved and to thrive in the numbers that they presently do, allowing guests from all over the world to come and enjoy sightings of these incredible animals that inspire and bring awe and admiration from all who set eyes on them.

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