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).
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.
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.