Colossal, immense or ginormous are appropriate adjectives to describe an elephant. Weighing up to 7 000 kilograms and measuring four metres at its front shoulder, an African bull elephant can eat 300 kilograms of plant matter and drink around 200 litres of water every day. Some of the largest tusks – their upper incisor teeth – weigh more than 75 kilograms each, which is equivalent to that of an average man. Elephants are very, very big.
But these statistics and adjectives don’t fully prepare you for a close encounter with Earth’s largest land animal. Wild elephants command attention and respect like no other creature and, in Addo Elephant National Park, just 40 kilometres northeast of Port Elizabeth, there’s every chance of getting near to them.
My first meeting with Addo’s elephants was more like a roadblock. I turned a corner in my car, and a breeding herd of 20-odd individuals was walking determinedly up the road towards me. Hemmed in on either side by the bush and from the back by another vehicle, I couldn’t go anywhere. I leaned out of my window to take a few photos and, as they came closer, I had no choice but to surrender meekly to their indisputable authority, pulling my camera back in. They passed within centimetres, the matriarch giving me a sideways glance as if to