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29 November 2019

Meet Boswell, the elephant who stands on his hind legs

This blog was written by James H, an ex-safari specialist who was an invaluable member of our team for 4 years. Here, James writes about his trip to Mana Pools in which he witnessed the amazing moment when elephant Boswell stood up on his hind legs.

Zimbabwe is a very special country, and one that has been going through a tough time. My mum is Zimbabwean, I have Zimbabwean friends, and, here at Yellow Zebra, I have Zimbabwean friends and colleagues. This means that, since I was a young lad, I’ve been kept up to speed with the goings-on.

Firstly, here’s a little background on my safari experience. I grew up on a small farm in England and my mother took me out to Africa every year to see her old backyard. She took me out into the wilder areas of Zim, and that’s where I experienced my first safaris. Normally we’d explore reserves that were off the beaten track, before heading to some of the more prestigious Southern African safari areas as I grew older.

I ended up moving to South Africa when I was 18. I worked on our farm in KwaZulu-Natal (near Durban, South Africa) and worked at safari camps as a camp manager. I then gained my commercial pilot’s licence and headed to the Okavango Delta, where I worked as a pilot/guide flying staff, freight, and guests into the Wilderness Safaris camps – an amazing job that allowed me to interact with guests and experience this wonderful wilderness area 24/7.

Next to aeroplane

James H meeting a client as Wilderness pilot

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James H flying clients across Botswana

Why am I going into so much detail about my life? Well, hopefully to give you the impression that even though I’m only in my early thirties, I have seen a lot when it comes to safaris in Southern Africa and I have some pretty amazing animal sightings in the bank. I’m extremely fortunate to be at a stage of safari where pretty much anything interests me, as long as I am out in the bush. I delight in the quirky, rare, interesting behaviour of wildlife, no matter how big or small – great guiding can also make up for what could be a quiet game-viewing day.

I also feel privileged in that I don’t need to rush out to try to see the Big Five and tick boxes. This is why, when I was sent out to Zimbabwe on a recent YZ work trip, I wasn’t totally absorbed with the idea of heading out to try to spot a bull elephant who is known to go up on his back legs. People had told me that this is an impressive sight, but I knew I’d still be very content with observing interesting behaviour from impala or perhaps admiring a strangler fig slowly taking over its host tree.

That said, one day in Mana Pools, we did head out in the morning with the aim of spotting Zimbabwe’s most famous bull elephant, Boswell. Our guide did a fantastic job of showing off his own interests when he spotted a bat hawk out of the corner of his eye. The passion he has for birding was clear, and we spent the next 20 minutes out of the vehicle positioning ourselves in the best position to take a good photograph of this very rare bird (which, admittedly, I did not know much about) while the rest of our group stayed on the vehicle wondering what all the fuss was about. They did, however, have a fantastic sighting of their own – a well-known Sky News TV reporter sitting on another vehicle and going the other way. I have luckily weaned myself off live TV news, and therefore wasn’t too excited by him.

After all of this divided excitement, we headed on to try to find this now-famous (thanks to YouTube) ‘Iconic’ bull of Mana Pools – and from chatting to another guide on the way, it seemed that he was in the area and we were on the right track. Boswell the bull is one of the best in the game at getting onto two sturdy back legs and reaching high up into the canopy. This isn’t something that comes easily to a five-ton animal with a very forward centre of gravity. I was soon to see why Boswell’s centre of gravity is so far forward – he has an outstanding pair of tusks.

As we had an increased chance of success on our mission, I started to get excited about this potential sight (and excited that our marketing team might get a couple of good videos and pictures of it)! We pulled up and parked under a magnificent winterthorn tree. I was almost left behind by my fellow walkers as I was planted there, admiring the sheer beauty and character of just one tree. But it was time to walk out towards the depths of the park, continuing the search for Boswell.

The scenery in this part of the world is simply superb – there are magnificent tall and characterful trees, dark mud-coloured soils, and lots of subtle yet also pronounced gullies and ridges. Without doubt, it’s one of the most beautiful areas I have walked in. It feels almost primeval, although it’s full of life. Off in the distance, one of our group spotted a group of male elephants, and quite clearly leading the group was Boswell. I say leading, but they were basically milling around in a fairly open grove of winterthorn trees, the tree of choice for Boswell and his like when going up on their hind legs.

We waited for a while in this most spectacular setting, with a perfect amount of shade shielding us from the hot sun – everything was teed up. I had my camera ready, and then one of the younger bulls looked like he was ready to give it a go. He lifted one of his front legs off the ground and did a sort of tripod rear. It looked quite impressive, actually, and gave me a taste of what was to come.

Boswell then moved forward, with some intention, towards a tree – and this was the moment we had been waiting for. It looked very much like he was going to show the other chaps how it’s done!

With much skill and grace, Boswell positioned himself under the overhang of a tall winterthorn (so-named because this tree retains its leaves in winter). He moved his centre of gravity backwards, reached up to the branch, front legs up in the air, and pulled it back down with him. This all occurred in about 5 seconds and was a movement full of skill and grace with a sprinkling of finesse. Wow! We were all over-excited, especially our guide – and I have to admit, it is one of my top animal sightings.

boswell elephants mana pools yellow zebra safaris 6

The wonderful thing about this experience was how relaxed the group of elephants was, considering our close proximity, and how lucky we all were to be able to witness one of the last magnificent tuskers in this spectacular part of Africa and, importantly in this social media age, to get a video clip for Instagram!

To witness Boswell the elephant, we recommend staying at one of the camps listed below – and if you’d like to include Mana Pools in an African safari, just contact one of our experts here.

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