What happens when two red hartebeest bulls in Addo Elephant National Park tackle each other in a fight? Action photographs tell the dramatic story of establishing dominance.

When a red hartebeest bull decides to challenge another for territory and breeding rights, it’s no small affair. Cue a whole lot of posturing, kicking and headbutting – even mudpacking. Nature guide Jeni Smithies was lucky enough to have her camera ready when Addo Elephant National Park became a battleground for two combative bulls.

“We had just entered the park through Matyholweni Gate in the early morning and were making our way to the plains. A few days of rain and cold had seen most animals hunkering down and the bright sunshine after the showers seemed to have instilled absolute joy in every animal we saw,” says Jeni.

Red hartebeest were running all over the plains, kicking their legs up and swinging their heads. “This is regular behaviour on the plains in Addo, particularly early mornings and late afternoons.” But while most of the hartebeest were full of the joys of spring, Jeni noticed two belligerent bulls that were squaring off against each other.

In a territorial battle, bulls will drop onto their knees and ram their heads against each other, locking horns in a battle for supremacy. The clash of horns can be so loud that it can be clearly heard several hundred metres away.

According to Jeni, serious clashes aren’t a regular sight. Even though hartebeest are known to be territorial and bulls will vigorously defend their rights, elaborate displays may help reduce the number of physical clashes.

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For these bulls, posturing hadn’t been enough and for some 10 minutes they were locked in a desperate struggle, before eventually pulling apart and going their separate ways. Jeni recalls that one hartebeest, its face caked with mud, pranced around very proudly. “It was the obvious winner.” In Beat about the Bush, field guide Trevor Carnaby explains that the hartebeest practice of covering their horns with mud may be a way of intimidating rivals.

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Jeni spends time in Addo almost every day. “South Africa’s fauna and flora are my life and passion. My love for nature has only deepened over the years. The more I learn, the more I want to know. My husband and I have a rule: learn one new fact every day.”

Also read: Sylvester the lion’s new life in Addo

Why visit Addo National Park?

For Jeni, Addo’s appeal lies in the park’s rolling hills, dense thickets with prolific insect and birdlife, and fascinating geology. “To be surrounded by enormous elephants is a very humbling experience. Not to mention looking at the Indian Ocean and the Alexandria Dune Fields while viewing wild game – you simply can’t beat that.”

“The most beautiful part of being an ambassador for South Africa is to see the awe on the faces of international tourists. The vast areas to explore, the natural beauty of each area and the animals that exist there… We sometimes take for granted what a beautiful country we live in and these visitors remind me daily just how fortunate and honoured I am to live here and promote my country.”

Have a look at Addo’s accommodation options and book your stay now.