Elephant attacks and unwise photographers – A ranger’s view

A good place to start would be to remind everyone that going on an African safari is a rare privilege that only a select number of people worldwide get the opportunity to experience. Having said that, we also need to remember that when we visit a zoo, the animals are stuck in cages and we are free to move around, view and admire them as we please. When we visit our National Parks on the other hand, the animals are in their natural habitat going about their normal business and we are the ones who “should be” confined to cages (vehicles or camps).

Elephant bull
I choose not to comment on whether or not it was right to kill the Elephant after it flipped that car. I say this simply because I was not involved in the decision making process. The reality is that the animal would still be alive if humans didn’t visit the Park. The vehicle had altered the Elephant bulls’ behaviour. The visitors had come into his personal space. They had followed too closely behind him trying to push him off the road and he clearly didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps attacking other vehicles in the future may become a learned behaviour by that particular Elephant which would put other visitors at risk. That is a debate for another day! I would rather argue that we should not be putting the innocent animal at risk by making it feel threatened in the first place. That way, Park authorities will not be put into the position to have to make these potentially controversial and difficult decisions. One thing is for sure, no matter what they decide, there are going to be a number of people who will be unhappy with their decision.

 

I would recommend that all visitors entering the park should be given a flyer upon arrival, educating them a little more about Elephant behaviour. I would also go beyond that and suggest that a “safe” viewing distance is recommended on a list of rules given to each driver entering the Park. We must always bear this distance in mind when viewing these enormous and potentially dangerous animals. One would hope that this incident is used as a sharp reminder of how we need to respect animals. Apart from them forming part of our Natural Heritage, they deserve nothing less from us.

 

Many South Africans are really upset about what happened in the second incident with children hanging out the widow just metres away from the lions, especially since the video has gone viral on social media. One just needs to read through all the heated comments to understand exactly what I am talking about. The comment I liked the most was “Stupid parents produce stupid children!” What were these people honestly thinking? The lion certainly did not attack the car, quite the opposite really. He showed signs of unhappiness by dropping his head and swishing his tail back and forth. These signs were ignored and he then jumped up quickly grunting with frustration and moved away. The outcome could have been a lot worse but even this would be uncharacteristic… It is clear that these particular lions have seen many vehicles before given the fact that they were lying on road unperturbed by all the cars around them. What the lions weren’t habituated to, however, was the foreign sight of people hanging out the windows and making sudden movements just a couple meters away from where they were lying. This is when their behaviour changed. Animals, like us, also fear the unknown. They wouldn’t just attack without a reason. Their behaviour is a lot more predictable than many might think.

lion
Photography is potentially another reason why people are putting themselves, but more importantly, the animals, in danger. It is often those who are looking for that award-winning photo that decide to try and get too close to animals. I’m certain that this is not the best approach.

 

Taking a self-drive safari comes with more responsibility than if you go on a drive in a Private Reserve with a qualified guide. If we continue to be ignorant, disrespectful and break the rules, more animals will be killed at our expense and National Park authorities are going to have to look into changing the rules.

 

In conclusion, I hope that family was fined heavily for breaking the rules in the Park. It is not fair that stupidity of a select few should affect the rest of us like-minded individuals that live for holidays and trips into the Kruger. The relaxation, aesthetic, spiritual and enjoyment factors that South African National Parks bring to our citizens cannot be underestimated. Neither should the funds that are generated by its visitors, which are used for conservation and management purposes.

20 Responses to “Elephant attacks and unwise photographers – A ranger’s view”

  • Donovan Gould:

    I could not have put it better myself. Well said!!

  • Elaine Rossiter:

    Well written and very well said

  • Niki Koch:

    I was deeply saddened at the death of the Bull elephant in Kruger as a result of ignorance and stupidity and agree an information flyer should be handed out and signed for as an indemnity for the animals and should you disregard the rules you should be immediately evicted and banned, I have seen too many irresponsible incidents in our parks that are both dangerous and stupid. I am an avid photographer and would be really annoyed should the parks be closed to self drives as that I feel is when I capture more natural animal behaviour, rather that on the back of a tour guide vehicle.

  • Gabriella Kiss DVM:

    Good Afternoon, I am completely agree that it is necessary to educate the tourist as recently when I visited the Kruger, I saw a lots of bad behaved people, even out from the car.
    I am not agree that based on this the Park has to kill animal! The animal has the same rights as we have.
    The flyers could be helpful, including shocking photos, plus the Park need to increase the fee dramatically for bad behaved people controlled by park rangers or police.
    During my 10 days stay I saw only 2 times speed limit controller but no road patrol.
    Very best wishes
    Gabriella

  • khanyisa:

    Well said, I just want to see offenders punished heavily so people will know that national parks and zoo’s are different things.

  • N H Venter:

    I fully agree with his remarks and recommendations. However, feel a short video(10-20 minutes) of potential dangers and rules (with examples)should be viewed by all visitors before they will be allowed to enter. This should be recorded on Sanparks system for record purposes and to control access. This will be valid for only 12 months and should be viewed again if expired, to enter(like the wildcard). Viewing should not be limited to entry of the park only, but for locals this can be done at any given time and at certain camps before the old one expired. No inconvenience is to much to safe a life of a human or a animal . Extreme circumstances require extreme measures.

  • Wen Beattie:

    My husband and I recently (September 2013) toured Kruger with a guide and were training very well on what not to do so as not to upset the animals in THEIR habitat. Once we left Kruger we did our own self tour at Addo Elephant Park and found ourselves getting very angry and frustrated with tourists there. The one couple kept driving right up the rear of the largest elephant we had ever seen. We wanted to get out and give them a talking to – revving your vehicle and practically hitting an animal is just not smart – his ears were flailing and he was shaking his head all around. These parks are for the animals to live without harm from us – people need to learn that.

  • Non c’è’ niente da aggiungere a quello che hanno detto i Ranger

  • Kevin McDonald:

    The ‘Conditions of Entry’ brochure issued to at Kruger visitors (to which one’s receipts and entry permits are attached and which has to be presented on checking out of the park, has a specific section entitled “Elephants: General Rules for Safe Viewing” This includes, amongst others, advice on how to respond to breeding herds and musth bulls (including a clear description of how to identify a bull in musth). All it falls short of is prescribing a specific minimum distance to keep from the animals. The problem is, most of us, myself included, are to busy, excited or blasé to read the fine print. There is good advice in that brochure and we would do well to heed it., as well as all the points made in the blog above. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Phunyuka:

    Well said. I think a heavy fine is in order and offenders should be banned from the park. In December we were there for two weeks, we saw several tortoise squashed by reckless drivers one vehicle in particular had about 5 people and two of them were drinking alcohol including the driver. I mean really???! Zero tolerance is needed if we want to preserve our heritage.

  • Rich:

    I agree with you Andrew. A little more education could very well have saved the elephant. Once you know that an Elephant does not like anything in its blind spot behind them then you know it would be a bad place to put yourself or your vehicle. It’s like horses. If your parents didn’t tell you never to stand behind them then you would most likely go up and give them a pat on the bum, probably resulting in a kick in the teeth. In the US parks visitors who do not know the rules and animals are asked to watch a short video which is also educational on the parks general history etc. Perhaps this is the way to go and have viewing rooms at the gates. SANParks could record all those who watch and then those that chose not to can’t blame the animals when they get “kicked”. Video also transcends language which is vital given the predicted increase in Asian and other foreign visitors in the future.

  • Donna:

    Preach….you could not have said it better

  • Ken Graham:

    Excellent article Andrew. As a transfer driver based in Nelspruit I spend lot of time in Kruger and witness all these “crazies” on a regular basis.The leaflet can work,but it needs to be multi-lingual and gate staff should tell self-drive visitors to read it. I believe the only way to stop people misbehaving & breaking the rules is to have more traffic officials patrolling, including dirt roads! ie. “visible policing.” Senior park staff, eg.,camp & gate managers,private lodge managers,honorary rangers should be allowed to fine people.

  • Aubrey:

    Thank you, I have seen and photographed elephants and other animals close up, but from the confines of my “Cage”. If the animal does not feel threatened they will come right up to you without any anger. I have yet to see an animal act aggressively to us, we do not approach them but patiently wait and watch them, we try not ot be in their path of travel. I would like to say common sense needs to prevail, but that would imply that common sense was common. The majority of Visitors seem to obey the simple rules of leave them alone… watch and enjoy their majesty.
    Lets not make these magnificent animals suffer because of us stupid humans.

  • The incident with the elephant was unneccesary as he gave clear indication that he wasn’t comfortable, but this was clearly ignored.
    As to the Lion incident, well enough said as well.
    Nature is a gift to all of us, enjoy not spoil it

  • Ronelle:

    Very well said. I am sad that the elephant was put down because of the stupidity of humans. Very sad…

  • Cath:

    Excellent article …. The future of our amazingly wonderful wildlife looks good with the commitment and leadership of young people like you …. Keep up the good work and may your work be supported abundantly.

  • Sharon Moser:

    Well written article, Andrew.

    Tragically, the Elephant incident you mentioned was already the 3rd such “execution” within 3-4 weeks’ time in the KNP – 2 were caused by tourists not using the brains that the Creator gave them and the 3rd involved 2 traffic controllers.

    I have also since seen videos of a morning drive guide from the so. KNP unmercifully harrasing a poor Elephant with shrieking & laughing guests in the vehicle — they were enough to curl your hair (I just felt nauseous).

    I really think a flyer would go as unread as the handbook the visitors are given upon registering at entrance and feel that the only way to get this problem that has already, in my opinion, reached crisis proportions half-way under control is to insist upon passing a thorough exam (possibly including videos, as one reader suggested), before even being allowed to enter the park on a self-drive basis — like a national park driver’s license. The same should apply to delivery truck drivers, for that matter, too. I also feel that the vehicle numbers linitation needs to be completely re-thought and drastically lowered — the holiday weekends must be a nightmare for all those animals directly affected.

    That there should be consequent follow-ups and strict fines, including permanent banishment for such mis-deeds goes without saying. These parks were, after all, supposedly created to protect the wildlife from these very humans who have practically driven so many of them to extinction.

    One, most unfortunately, sees new photos and videos like the ones you described several times a week at the Latest-Sightings and other such pages. These deinquents are usually reported to the authorities, but whether they are actually consequently followed up or not is a great unknown, as the KNP often seems to practice a hush-up protocol or is certainly non-communicative about such matters. And, as we all know, excellent communication equals clarity.

  • Essential reading in my view Andrew! We are making a once in a lifetime trip to visit my wife’s relatives around christmas this year and will begin at Kruger. Any flyers leaflets advice would be more than appreciated to maximise our enjoyment and minimise our impact on this great privilege arranged for us. Very well written sir!

  • Thanks for sharing this helpful info!

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