Klaserie River Sands

Video: the curious elephant behaviour of play-fighting

Each week we see something very special while on our game drives at Senalala and this time we’d like to share with you the fascinating interactions and behaviour between elephants in their herds.

From a relatively early age, young male elephants in the same herd will interact with each other and ‘tussle’. As they get older they will play-fight and as different families intermingle, they will spar with other young males of a similar age from the other families.

elephant, tussle, Senalala

They learn their own strength, build knowledge and develop the skill set they will need as mature males. When they reach about 12 to 15 years of age, they will leave the family and drift alone or join other families and later form groups.

elephant, tussle, Senalala

A hierarchy is established as they continue to learn how to become mature bulls, with the most experienced and strongest elephant males leading and protecting the loosely knit group. These dominance hierarchies are quite complex and there is a great amount of different behaviour that occurs, the hierarchies being non-linear.

Scientifically, when the young elephant males leave the group it is known as natal dispersal and it is a mechanism that has evolved over the millennia to avoid inbreeding and competition with kin.

elephant, tussle, Senalala

A male elephant will want to mate with as many females as he can and this process requires the development of these “boys clubs” from which, eventually, the strongest will pursue an elephant family and find a receptive cow with whom he will mate. He will be in musth – a periodic occurrence when adult males have an increase in reproductive hormones – and will be a six-ton mass of walking hormones!

But elephant behavior is very complicated and humans are still learning about it as more data is gathered from observations, such as the one of the elephants play-fighting in the video below.

Watching these young bulls play-fight is a spectacle that cannot be forgotten by those on safari, a unique and memorable sighting to imprint in your memory and your camera.

Senalala Luxury Safari Camp

Senalala is one of Africa's most sought after Walking Safari destinations with highly skilled guides capable of safely leading enthralling big game encounters. This exceptional activity is combined with the verdant setting of the camp and associated traditional safari experience comforts.

Africa Geographic