Elephant bull in musth

Updated: Apr 24

Moments with an agitated Elephant bull in musth

There are always moments that will stand out on any photographic journey and be remembered and embraced, one of those was this encounter with an African bull elephant in full musth in the Black Rhino Private Game Reserve in Pilanesberg.

The Elephant bull did put up a full display of dominance and agitation that lead to superb moments of photographic opportunities.

Our guide Jeandre Nothnagel handled the situation like the professional guide he is, although the situation was one of the more dangerous moments one can experience out on a game drive, never once did I experience a sense of not feeling safe and in any danger.

However musth bulls are indeed very dangerous and must be treated with the necessary respect they deserve, they are unpredictable and things can turn for the worse in an instant.


Typical musth (must) behaviour from the elephant bull is dust throwing, ear flapping and head shaking.
African elephant bull in musth - dust throwing behaviour

If I can't get you today, I'll get you tomorrow...

Arriving at Pilanesberg Private Game Lodge late one Friday afternoon in August 2021, we decided to still try and do a very short late afternoon game drive.

Elephant bull in full musth

It was not even 10 minutes into the game drive when we saw the bull elephant next to the road and clearly in full musth with the temporal glands streaming with temporin and the very visual sign of constant urine dripping down his hindlegs. If you've ever been close to a bull in musth you will know the distinctive strong odour and one can smell it from a distance.

Jeandre our guide immediately commented on the situation pointing out that it's not ideal to be around him, as the bull zoned in on us and immediately started heading in our direction. These bulls are very unpredictable in times of musth and with very high levels of testosterone contributing to aggression that can be triggered by anything at any moment turning it into a real dangerous situation. He made the choice to give the bull space and get away from the sighting to all of our relief, not knowing we will meet up again.


Agitated Musth Behaviour

An elephant bull in musth is a condition where the bull is in a highly aggressive period of time due to increased levels of testosterone that can be way over 60 times than normal

A musth bull will walk with a kind of swagger with its head held high, at an angle such that the chin looks tucked in, and the ears are spread and motionless.

A swinging motion to the head and tusks while walking is an indication of his musth behaviour and his willingness to make trouble.

A musth bull that's agitated will be walking towards you picking up sand with his trunk and throw the dust all over him and in his face with his ears spread wide open, making him look more fierce and larger to show you he means business.


So we meet again the very next day!

After a long day out in the bush with fantastic sightings we headed back to the lodge, tired and looking forward to get back, wind down and enjoy the evening ahead. Unaware of the possible danger and exhilarating experience awaiting us up the road, as we were talking and reflecting about the day's sightings we suddenly became aware of the elephant bull walking out in front of us into the road, we immediately realised that it was the same musth bull as the previous afternoon. He had our full attention in a heartbeat as he immediately turned towards us, turned his head sideways as if he was thinking of leaving the scene and then as if he recognised us and maybe thought "I'm not finished with you guys yet" started to make his way towards us in a fast walking pace with his head held high and ears open.

Our guide read the situation and started backing up giving him space.

Being a photographer, this was an opportunity not to miss out on, putting the danger aspect to the side grabbing the camera, quickly done a lens change while in motion backing up. The bull started to give us a full display of dust throwing just as he started to speed up towards us, with our guide keeping a constant speed backing up keeping the same distance between him and us, this was the time to start capturing the moments.

Moments becoming fine art photography

For a photographer these are the moments we live for, capturing behaviour and moments that can be turned into fine art prints.




Never let magical moments be controlled by fear...

- Capture the scary moments in the present, become afraid afterwards-


#iamnikon #wildlifephotography #africanelephant #wildlifephotographer #jacowiidfotografie







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