an elephant never forgets

Another amazing morning begins at Sabi Sabi with the warmer refreshing air of spring replacing the bitter cold air of the winter mornings.

There has been a large amount of elephant activity going on around the property over the past few weeks giving us amazing opportunities to observe and study their intelligent nature.

On this particular morning we were following a large breeding herd as they slowly moved along the Msuthlu River feeding in the dense river foliage. The herd contained a large variety of ages from the very young calves to the older experienced matriarch setting the direction of movement for the herd.

As the herd slowly moved along the riverbank, they reached an area where an old bull elephant had passed away over a year prior to this encounter. There was a dramatic change in the behavior of the herd as they moved from feeding to a state of alarm. The elephants began to lift their trunks testing the air as well as constant low communication rumbles.

elephants while on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

The behavior was amazing to witness. With no remains of the passed elephant left, the herd was still able to pick up the scent. They continued to place their trunks on the ground smelling and testing the scent of the bull.

elephants while on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

After about ten minutes, the matriarch decided it was time to move on. As she proceeded to make her move, the other members of the herd all took a moment to stop and smell the ground. With each elephant spending a number of minutes at the site smelling the ground, proceeding to move on followed by the next, who took time to explore the scent.

elephant smelling

The sighting sparked the conversation on the topic of how amazing the elephant’s sense of smell truly is, as well as “do elephants actually mourn their dead?” Does an animal with the intelligence of the elephant have feelings, as we know them to be?

elephant smelling

To me it seems as if the elephants are paying their respects to the dead whilst they smelt and rumbled in communication at the site of the passed bull, with each taking a minute or two to do so. Once again, the animals have managed to amaze me as to how powerful and in tune all their senses are to nature and increasing my belief that these animals are a lot more intelligent then we assume them to be.

If only we could ask them what they are thinking.



  1. lyn says

    Having spent an unforgettable time at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge back in January of this year, I follow your articles with great interest. As we were waiting for our flight from Johannesberg back to Capetown, I discovered an amazing book at the airport written by the prize winning conservationist, Lawrence Anthony called “The Elephant Whisperer” which in my opinion is a great follow up to the spectacular game drives at Sabi Sabi. A big thank you to all at Sabi Sabi for the wonderful articles you place on Facebook…
    Best regards,

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