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Hlamalala has been named for the tributary of the Shisha Spruit, 23km north east of Punda Maria (‘Hlamalala’ is a Tsonga word for the southern stripe bellied grass or sand snake).
When first spotted, he was already an old bull recognised by very upwards curved thin tusks. From 12-15 years of age up to 20, young bulls will spend over 50% of their time away from the family unit, finally leaving entirely.
Despite their solitary nature bulls also have a complex form of social organization. After becoming independent they may walk alone or form small temporary bachelor groups of 2 – 14 animals. Bulls wander more widely than cows and, during periods of musth (a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterised by highly aggressive behaviour), will venture away from their home range in search of mating opportunities. Very old bulls will often be found far away from the main herds, in marshy areas. As their last tooth wear’s down, they need to be close to soft vegetation which requires minimal chewing. Due to that and limited resources, bulls deaths, like Hlamalala’s are presumed due to age and lack of spotting rather than finding their carcasses.
Text: South African National Parks
Photo copyright: Keith Begg