Elephant vs. African Wild Dogs at Botswana Watering Hole

A Film by Maureen Ryan.

This may be the best thing I’ll ever put into the world. It makes my heart happy just to think about witnessing it. There’s  more info about this below, if you want it, but if you don’t, just experience the magic: 

In July, we spent a few glorious weeks in Botswana, the trip of a lifetime. We were so lucky to be able to go there. There were a few amazing high points, some of which were caught on video. I also took a ton of photos, and I’m posting one pic a day on my Instagram.* (To be clear, some of what’s on my Instagram is from Botswana, and some from around my house, from walks in the woods, or from other trips. But many of the pics lately are from Botswana).  

We all agreed this moment was high up on our list of Greatest Trip Experiences  — this encounter between a pack of African wild dogs and an elephant. I’m going to give you a spoiler up front: Nobody gets hurt, it’s adorable and fun, and there’s no bloodshed. On another day, we did watch a pack of wild dogs take apart a freshly killed impala for about an hour, but I’m not going to show you that particular Hannibal spinoff, ever. We have videos, but nope. It was fascinating to witness, but… so … many…. intestines.

Anyway, here’s what happened in this video: We were staying in Gomoti Tented Camp in northern Botswana. There’s a watering hole right in front of this small (and great) camp, right outside the dining area. As we were finishing breakfast, an impala shot by the watering hole, chased by a wild dog. That wild dog decided to stop running after the impala and hang out at the watering hole. Soon he was joined by about 15-16 packmates. They were all wandering around or lying down or drinking, just chilling, when a solo elephant walked up. It’s not all that unusual to see a solo elephant now and then, though they’re usually in herds. Anyway, this gent strolls up, expecting to have the watering hole to himself, but the dogs know they can literally run circles around him and not get hurt, so they don’t slink off.

What occurs for the next six minutes is him trying to drive them off (“Damn kids, get off my lawn!”), them messing with him by creeping a bit closer, him shooing them off again, and the whole thing becoming kind of a game to both of them. The elephant was a bit annoyed, and the dogs were maybe a little scared, but not really. What came through to me was how the whole thing was kind of a fun, even silly moment. All parties knew they wouldn’t get hurt, it was a low-key and basically harmless interspecies encounter, and it was mighty amusing to witness.

We also got to watch a pack of adult wild dogs feed and interact with their cute-as-a-button pups for about two hours another day. Being able to spend long periods of time observing all kinds of wildlife living their day-to-day lives — I can’t put into words the purity and intensity and joy of that gift. I think about that trip every single day and one hope we can go back to Botswana, especially to the Okavango Delta region. I love it so, so much. 

Anyway, watch the whole thing, if only so you can nominate it for a Most Popular Film Oscar. But if you want to skip around, here are some approximate time codes (and after the first few seconds — when you’ll hear the elephant trumpet — turn down the sound. We sound like excited baboons, and if you’re into that kind of thing, crank the sound, but really and truly, feel free to mute):

First minute: Elephant walks up, charges and trumpets a bit to scare off the dogs. Doesn’t work. Elephant gets himself some water regardless.

Around minute 2 to around minute 3: Elephant flicks water at the dogs while drinking.

Around 3:40: Elephant both kicks out at and flicks water at the dogs.

Around 4:30: Exciting conclusion of the third act: Elephant sprays water out his trunk at the dogs (that is my favorite part).

Around 5:30 to end: My second favorite part. The elephant does a “Homer Simpson” into the bushes — he walks off, but then he decides he doesn’t want to show his backside to those pesky dogs, so he back slowly into the foliage. Classic Homer elephant. 

2 Replies to “Elephant vs. African Wild Dogs at Botswana Watering Hole”

  1. Love the whole encounter, Mo. And thanks for sharing the website.

    Many years ago I worked with international students. My assistant, who had never typed before, was from Botswana. Her nickname was Tumi, her father a member of Parliament. Lovely young woman. Studied social work in Kentucky in part because they didn’t have a structure for it back home. Her older sister also at my university and more self assured and seemingly at home in the world. City girls. Dad came to visit sometime the following summer. Tumi was so happy but also apprehensive. She knew that any bad news from home would only be shared in person Not by letter or phone.

  2. I bookmarked this just so I can rewatch it on rough days. Thank you.

    Also, damn you, now I have to put Botswana on my list, something I managed to avoid up until now, even after reading a few of those impossible-to-hate No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books.

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