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  • ELEPHANT ATTACK! How to avoid an innocent animal’s death

    Posted by Arno Smit January 22, 2014 - 2,061 views - 0 comments - 3 likes

    Over the last few days, a storm has been brewing in South – Africa over a recent human/elephant interaction in the Kruger National Park. As a couple were driving through the reserve, they encountered an elephant in the road in front of them. What followed were the horrific scenes of a car being rolled into the bushes by the elephant. This resulted in injuries to the vehicle passengers and, essentially, the elephant bull being put down by park authorities. An event like this is truly tragic for all involved; but must serve as a learning experience for those who have the privilege of seeing these creatures up close and personal.

    Now, the question is who was at fault? Was it necessary to put down the animal after the ordeal? Was the driver deliberately trying to aggravate the animal? What could have been done to avoid the situation?



    We asked wildlife expert, and Nkonzo Bush Academy owner, Arno Smit, to give us his thoughts on the incident.


    At first it appears that the Elephant was walking away from the vehicle and was in the road. Whenever a situation like that occurs, the best thing to do is to WAIT!! Animals always have right of way especially if the animal weighs 6000kg!              


    The person driving that vehicle should have stopped and waited for the elephant to move away and into the bushes, however the vehicle kept approaching, and it seems he wanted to overtake the elephant. The first sign the elephant showed was when he turned around and acknowledged their presence. They should have stopped immediately. As we can see, they kept moving. It is at this stage that we can see the elephant being highly aggravated (flapping his ears) and then commence to push and roll the vehicle. Generally, elephants are very placid and not aggressive at all. There are many other factors that could possibly lead to this situation; the elephant could have been in musth or the elephant could have been injured.


    Whatever the reason or situation, it is important to remember that animals have right of way and a person should never go into the personal space of a wild animal, no matter how “friendly” or passive it may appear. We are visitors in their habitat and should respect that. That being said, reserves and parks that allow clients to drive around freely, should at least brief their clients about safety or signs to look out for before they embark on a drive.


    To get even further insight into the situation, we asked Jo Fourie, an elephant expert who tracked elephant herds across Africa to establish migration patterns and eradicate poaching, to tell us more about the signs we can look out for to ensure safety when encountering an elephant or elephant herds.


    How do you approach elephants in a vehicle? It’s an easy question to answer, don’t approach them at all, but if you want to get closer for whatever reason, keep the following in mind:


    • Look at the demography of the herd, and if there are small calves, younger than a year old in the herd be extra cautious.   A calve younger than one year will be as high as his mother’s stomach, and if it can pass underneath her stomach it is very young and it is better not to disturb them.
    • Look at the behaviour of the herd, it will be obvious if they are irritated by your presence. Any of the following signs must not be ignored:
      • Stop feeding and turn their attention towards you,
      • raise their trunks, flap their ears, shake their heads,
      • pick-up sticks with their trunks and play with them,
      • trumpeting and mock charges.
      • Usually it will be the young bulls in the herd that will approach and show interest in the vehicle first, this is usually not to serious, but keep a safe distance away from the herd and plan an escape route before approaching.

      • However, if any of the females in a herd show any of these signs, it is time to move on. After all, we are in their territory and must respect it -  how would you feel if somebody stop in your back yard while you are having lunch and start taking pictures of you and make comments about your anatomy, and weight?

      • Adult bulls are a different story, most of the time they are solitary, or in small bachelor herds and are very seldom aggressive, except when in musth. Signs that bulls are in musth is an excretion from their temporal glands, just in front of the ear. They will probably be solitary, or if other elephants are around show aggressive behaviour towards them.  Don’t approach them at all, their reactions are unpredictable during musth and they will show aggression towards anything in the vicinity.
      • Being on foot is also a completely different ball game; please keep your distance and if they move closer, slowly move back and LEAVE THEM ALONE, they can out run you, even Usain Bolt won’t have a chance!

      In all of the excitement and adrenaline of seeing these magnificent creatures, it is easy to get caught up. But it is really important to remember the power animals have, and that contrary to our belief we are not always top of the survival ladder to the fittest. When interacting with wild animals, it is imperative that we take all necessary precautions in order to protect ourselves and the wild life. It is also up to Reserves, rangers, and educational staff to properly prepare guests for such types of interactions. The aggression shown by this elephant, placed Kruger National Park management in a difficult situation, and they made the call they deemed fit.

      It is crushing to hear of such events, when had proper precautions been taken, this could have been avoided. Now, we are left with a rolled car, injured guests, and a dead elephant. This situation serves as a lesson on information that must be given and shown to guests of a reserve; and to remind us again, that we are guests here and our inability to appreciate the power of wild animals will lead to tragedy.