Animals never stop amazing us! Ian and Debbie McFarlane share their special sighting of an elephant herd helping a distressed calf.

Ian reports:

My wife Debbie and I live in Port Elizabeth and we are regular visitors to Addo. Because the park is less than an hour’s drive from home, we usually go for day trips, but a couple of weeks ago we camped at Addo for the weekend.

On Saturday morning 16 March, we went for an early game drive. We headed for the Hapoor Dam, via Gwarrie Pan and Rooidam. At Rooidam we saw a herd of buffalo wallowing in the mud. We got to Hapoor around 09:00 am and things were quite busy already. There were about 40 elephants in the vicinity of the waterhole.

Not long after we arrived, there was a commotion among a section of the herd that were standing at the edge of the dam. A lot of the ellies were very agitated, trumpeting and shuffling around. One of the SANParks Honorary Rangers and his wife were in the vehicle parked next to us. I overheard him tell his wife that a baby ellie had fallen into the dam and that’s when we realised what had upset the herd.

The herd was blocking our view, so we moved about 100 metres to a better vantage point and that’s when we saw the calf in the water. It was very upsetting to witness the helpless calf floundering in the water. We were tempted to drive off because it was so distressing to watch, but on the other hand, it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to record the event in pictures, in the hope that it would all turn out okay.

Fortunately the drama did not last too long, it was all over within about five minutes, but there was a great sense of relief when the calf had been rescued. There were at least a dozen vehicles at Hapoor at the time and some of the people couldn’t bear to watch and drove off. A lady in a car next to us was in tears, so it had a huge impact on everyone who witnessed it.


This angle shows the herd next to the dam after the calf had fallen into the water.


This picture was taken from another angle after Ian and Debbie moved their vehicle. The calf is clearly distressed and hasn’t a hope of gettiing up the muddy embankment.


One of the herd trying to help the calf out of the water.Looking promising – another member of the herd is helping and the calf is almost out.


Oops… the calf is slipping back into the water.


The calf has slid all the way back into the water.


Back to square one. You can almost read the mind of the mother standing on the bank looking at her floundering calf – time for plan B.


Plan B being put into action – the mother decides the only way to help the calf is to get into the water with it.


A bit of a scary moment – mother is in the water, but Ian and Debbie can’t see the calf.



Edging towards the bank, with other members of the herd waiting to assist.


Halfway there, things looking promising again.


Almost there, one final heave.


Safe and sound – mother and calf walking off happily with the rest of the herd.

About the photographers

Debbie and Ian live in Port Elizabeth but try to get away as often as possible. A few years ago they decided to buy a suitable vehicle that could take them virtually anywhere.

“There was so much of our own country and the neighbouring states that we had not seen and we have certainly made up for that in the last seven years or so. We love to go off the beaten track in our Isuzu, although we are definitely not part of the ‘hardcore’ 4×4 brigade. We enjoy camping, especially when visiting game parks – one feels much closer to nature when camping.

“We have visited most of the national parks, the most memorable being two trips to Kruger and one trip to Kgalagadi, but others like Mapungubwe, Augrabies, Karoo and the Richtersveld were also very special. Of course, we are spoiled by having Addo less than an hour’s drive away and we go there regularly for day trips and have stayed over a few times as well. We travelled to Namibia twice, including a trip to Etosha, Sossusvlei and Fish River Canyon in 2010. Next on our bucket list is a trip to Botswana and Victoria Falls, which starts on 23 April – we can’t wait!”