In the unforgiving world of the wild, it’s a mother’s instinct to go to any length to safeguard her offspring, even if it involves a daunting confrontation.
The spotlight is on a brave hippo mother who dared to square off with an irate elephant bull, subsequently thrown several feet in the air, to provide her calf a chance to flee to safety.
Remarkably, she survived this altercation with minimal injuries – a slight scratch and a bruised sense of dignity.
Rian Van Schalkwyk, a passionate wildlife photographer, caught this unforgettable event on camera at Erindi Private Game Reserve, Windhoek, Namibia.
Van Schalkwyk, who also practices as a General Practitioner in Rundu, a quaint town in northeastern Namibia, shared his thrill, “I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the wilderness, yet this was an unparalleled spectacle that left me awestruck.”
Van Schalkwyk and his family exclusively witnessed the unfolding drama from a restaurant viewing deck after the other guests had retired for a siesta post-lunch.
The deck, overlooking a waterhole, provided a perfect spot to observe the escalating tension between the wildlife residents.
Van Schalkwyk recalled, “I was photographing hippos bathing when a herd came out to graze on the grass laid out by the staff due to a prevailing drought.
The tranquil scene was disrupted when a large elephant bull barged into the scene, aiming for the same grass.”
Tension arose when the mother hippo inadvertently got too close to the elephant, leading to a swift escalation. Despite the significant size difference – the elephant effortlessly flipping the 1.5-tonne female hippo with his trunk – the mother stood her ground.
The photographer narrated, “The mother hippo rolled down towards the water after landing on her back. The aftermath saw the elephant shaking his head in disbelief.
At the same time, the defiant mother retreated into the water, later emerging after about five minutes. The maternal instinct against a formidable opponent.”
Post this intense encounter, the mother and calf were reunited. However, instead of sympathy, the hippo herd showed aggression towards them, forcing them to isolate themselves from the group.
The elephant continued to dominate with mock charges at other hippos and shooing away sunbathing crocodiles.
Ending peacefully, the elephant treated itself to a dust bath and left the scene, leaving the hippos to graze undisturbed.
Reflecting on the remarkable event, Van Schalkwyk said, “The experience was a treasure for a lifetime. Observing such raw animal behavior was a privilege, yet seeing the mother’s struggle was poignant.”