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Elephant in garden in Kruger National Park, South Africa
© Linda Oosthuizen
Kruger Stories written by Linda Oosthuizen

The drought of 2016/2017 hit very hard here in Kruger National Park, as it did in most of South Africa. Our rainy season usually starts in October or November. But in 2016, we had no rain to speak of during those last three months of the year. The beginning of 2017 we had a little, but not nearly enough to fill pans let alone the dams all around. The Letaba and the Olifants Rivers had slowed down to a little trickle, making us wonder if they were going to stop flowing altogether.

The bush was looking incredibly dry. There were areas, especially north of Satara, with not a single blade of grass between the dry scrubs. Dust devils were swirling the dry soil around like little tornados on the horizon.

Around Letaba, all the Mopani trees had lost their leaves. There was so little grazing and browsing; the animals were really struggling. Except for the predators and the scavengers. They were looking fat and happy. We were starting to wonder if this drought would ever end!

In the staff village, we have had water restrictions in place for as long as I can remember. Only being allowed to water our grass on Tuesdays, Thursdays and on weekends early mornings and late afternoons. We would try water as little as possible. Just enough to keep the grass going that we struggled so much to get to grow in the first place. But even then, to all the animals our gardens probably looked about a hundred times more appealing than the bone-dry bush around us.

Elephant walking through garden in Kruger National Park
© Linda Oosthuizen

The fence around our garden was pretty much non-existent after elephants had walked through it looking for food. We woke up one night by the sound of branches breaking right by our bedroom window. An elephant was munching on the magic guarri that grows outside our window. We could see him clearly in the moonlight. The movement of the curtains probably spooked him, because he took one last mouthful and retreated back into the bush after carefully stepping over the broken fence.

We would wake up some mornings with a herd of impala eating our grass or bushbuck munching on the bushes next to the fence. We didn’t mind it, we felt so sorry for all of them… this drought was really taking its toll on all the animals.

The elephants, which up until then would only come into the yards at night, were getting more desperate and bold and we started to see them more and more during the day. I counted about six different bulls that we would see regularly; one of them had stunning tusks.

Elephant in garden in Kruger National Park
© Linda Oosthuizen

One morning I was busy feeding our youngest when my three-year-old walked into our bedroom and said “Mommy, come! Elephant!”.

I followed him into the living room and looked out the window. There was an elephant standing on the grass in the middle of our neighbour’s garden! He had his back towards us and was busy feeding on her stunning aloes.

We watched quietly as the ellie destroyed aloe after aloe. When those were well and truly finished he then made his way around the back of the house and across the fence into another yard with a beautiful (and delicious looking) fig tree. He carefully lifted each leg high enough not to touch any of the chicken mesh or wires. It was quite funny to see. Almost like he thought the people would get upset with him if he damaged the already downed fence. Maybe he actually did. Elephants are very intelligent. You never know!

I snuck around the back and crept up to our other neighbour’s house. They were not home, but I am sure they would love to see some pictures of this elephant standing next to their washing line, eating away at the fig tree at the back of their house. The lady that works at their house let me in. She was absolutely petrified!! She was scared the elephant was going to attack her inside the house… I tried to reassure her by saying that the elephant would never come inside, but she still looked very worried.

Elephant eating vegetation in Kruger National Park
© Linda Oosthuizen

I watched the elephant from their bedroom and took a few photos and videos through the open bathroom window. The elephant did not have a care in the world. He was eating his fig tree contently, flapping his ears in the heat of the day, occasionally throwing some dust over his back.

This particular bull had a half broken right tusk and a notch in his ear so I recognised him when he came back the next day; and the day after that. I called him Naughty Boy. Boy, was he naughty! We would see him almost every other day for the next couple of weeks.

He would make his way up our neighbour’s driveway, around the back of her house, carefully step over the fence and have a few more juicy fig tree branches. One time he brought a couple of his buddies, but they were not so sure about trespassing into the people’s territory. They hung around the open gate, nervously swinging a front leg back and forth or fiddle with a rock or a twig with their trunk, waiting for their brave friend to come back. It was all very entertaining to watch!

Elephant eating fig tree in garden in Kruger National Park
© Linda Oosthuizen

We loved having these gentle giants so close to the house! It is one of the reasons why living here in Kruger is so amazing! Especially our staff village in Letaba, which is located a few kilometres away from the main rest camp, is so very special.

Eventually, the group of six bulls got a bit out of hand. They walked through fence after fence and even went for a picnic in the day visitor’s area! That is when they got chased away by the SANParks helicopter. And when the rains finally came and the drought ended, there was no need for them to come into our gardens anymore. There was more than enough juicy green food for them in the bush.

During the dry winter months though, we still have the occasional nocturnal visit from our elephant neighbours. It is always a surprise to find out they were around the house. Quietly coming and going, leaving some big footprints and a steaming heap of dung as a thank you for a lekker meal!

Watch as the elephant makes his way to the neighbour’s garden

There is an elephant on the driveway!

In my latest blog I tell the story of an elephant that took a liking to a fig tree in my neighbour's garden. He was quite civilised about it! Read the story here:

Gepostet von Our Life in Kruger am Montag, 25. Juni 2018

Africa Geographic Travel
Linda Oosthuizen

Born and raised in the Netherlands, Linda first experienced the South African bushveld when she was a cabin attendant for the Dutch national airline KLM. It was love at first sight. First with the lowveld and Kruger, and later with her South African husband. Linda moved to South Africa four years ago and she and her husband currently live in Kruger National Park, where her husband is a trails ranger. She is a wildlife enthusiast, blogger, amateur photographer and mother of two boys. You can follow more of her adventures and about their life in Kruger on her blog Our life in Kruger and on Facebook.