Elephant Attack in the Kruger

Jono Buffey All Authors, Jono 5 Comments

Firstly, the comments made in this article are strictly my own personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect that of my partners or the company.

The media has been awash with the story in which a couple visited the Kruger Park and, whilst on a game drive, got too close to an elephant bull in musth, resulting in a nasty incident in which the rental car they were in was destroyed, the lady was seriously injured and the elephant was later shot.

There have been many, many people venting on the incident with the majority of the people firmly placing the blame on the couple that were “innocently” driving through the park – witnessing the many great wildlife sightings that this magnificent destination has to offer.

There have been several incidents over the years where elephants have damaged cars but, as a percentage of the number of visitors that the Kruger enjoys, it is negligible.

But it did happen, and an elephant was destroyed and the general public is furious with these people.   The negative image that this has created amongst overseas guests and the damage it may have had on potential visitors to the Kruger, is enormous.

When I first read the details of the incident – it did spark a number of thoughts in my mind

  • I felt for the lady who sustained serious injuries when the elephant tusk ripped through the bottom of her thigh. Fortunately she survived, but will bear the scars for the rest of her life.
  • I have read people saying that she deserved what she got – Really? Sorry, but I cannot agree with that.
  • They will justify that the elephant met a far worse fate.
  • I was reminded of the many incidents that have occurred in a reserve where I have an interest in a lodge. If an elephant touches a vehicle or a person, it is destroyed. Elephants there have met the same fate. There is a fine line between conservation and eco tourism.
  • How were they to know that the elephant was in musth? I would suspect there are many people out there that have been going to the park for years and still wouldn’t be able to ascertain this.
  • Was the elephant aggressive only due to this phase in which they experience high levels of testosterone? A bit like the mood of someone on steroids. But many people drive in the close proximity of elephants whilst they are in musth and there is no incident.
  • I suspect the reports that it had a large abscess on one of its tusks made it even more irritable.
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But the main question I asked myself was – why the hell did they get so close and why did they not reverse their vehicle when the elephant turned around – it didn’t attack them immediately.

Did they freeze with fear?

I suppose these questions can only be answered once they have been interviewed and they are able to get their side of the story.

I will await this before I cast judgment.

Perhaps this is a possibility – as far as I know the lady lives in the UK and was travelling with her partner, a South African who also lives in the UK.  Clearly we have no idea of their “bush experience”.

But think about it – they would have seen documentaries, seen brochures etc, many of which depict the excitement and thrill of getting up close and personal with some of Africa’s most dangerous animals.

I recently went to a private game reserve and was on drive with a suitably qualified field guide and we were watching a male elephant drinking at a waterhole.

The vehicle next to us was close, very close – I am not being critical of the guide as the elephant was showing signs of dominance but did not give any warning signs of an imminent attack.

I got this image of the scene.

The elephant shook its head, waved it trunk, extended it’ s ears and moved on.

All was cool in this instance but I can assure you, even the most qualified game rangers have, and can make mistakes.

Should the couple be completely castigated, constantly referred to as complete idiots and told to go back to England and never return?

I don’t think so.

Should the elephant have been destroyed?

Your call.

On a side note – our national parks are under serious threat from the damage created to the environment by the over population of elephants.

There are various methods that the authorities are trying to institute to control the growth of numbers with limited success and remember that our national parks have fences, so the biomass in the regions can only support a certain number of the species before irreparable damage is caused, having a detrimental effect on other species.

To cull or not to cull – I suppose it depends on whether your thoughts are purely based on emotion OR fact but now there is a subject that I am not even going to begin to get embroiled in.

Jono Buffey

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Comments 5

  1. Andrew Cromhout

    I got the elephant in my sights. It was moving, so to get the ideal shot was not as easy a target as if it were standing still. It was coming towards me which sent my pulse and nerves skyrocketing. I needed to shoot it and shoot it fast. If I didn’t shoot it now the opportunity would be gone soon. He would make a beautiful addition adorning the wall in my study. He was clearly in my sights now and this was the moment. I had a big barrel with a lovely piece of glass on it.I paid a lot for it and it was surely going to do the job properly. Shoot my wife says, SHOOT NOW! SHOOOOOT, he is only 15 meters away! I squeezed and I shot him. He didn’t fall. The little red dot was in the perfect spot, lighting up and telling me all was good to go! I squeezed again, but this time I shot him a few more times in succession. The rapid fire in my manual said that I must have shot him at least 8.8 times within the second. It sounded good.

    Then all of a sudden he stopped. It went quiet…….. and then he walked away. I got the shot I wanted, with my camera of course. To cull or not to cull… Yip too emotional and complex a subject for me, safe to say there doesn’t appear to be enough scientific evidence of the “ideal” number in a given area, or is that position also debatable??? Like Jono, I suggest we stay away from the subject. Although our subject matter is more often than not wildlife, the subject that we can really try and understand and aspire to, is becoming better photographers.

    The issue of whether the person in a car been turned over by an elephant is in the wrong or the elephant is often going to be debatable often. How often does someone go to court and we find them guilty before hearing “the other side of the story”. Unfortunately, the elephant never gets to tell their side of the story, unless a postmortem reveals an abscess or some other reason. Does that give us the right to shoot them. Not sure?! When I went to the dentist last, he didn’t shoot me for this, and I promise you, I felt frustrated and very moody as the elephant must do, about my terrible irritation in my mouth area. To shoot or not to shoot…..? To cull or not to cull……?

  2. Barry

    As you say it would be very interesting to hear the couples side of events and find out why they didn’t just reverse? The only reason I could think of is the “stand your ground” thought process when dealing with wildlife, perhaps fearing that reversing would provoke a charge whereas standing ones ground would eventually lead to the elephant backing down, who knows? But personally I would have been reversing… 🙂

  3. Craig Jones

    While I agree with both Jono and Andrew, when it comes to the questions of Shoot or not to shoot or Cull or not to cull, it is a very emotive debate that I am not sure will rage on into the future.
    However what I also want to add is a topic that disturbs me immensely and would like to bring attention to this as well.
    Having travelled and toured various game parks in Africa, including the Kruger extensively over the last 40 years. I am truly shocked at the level of disrespect given to the wild animals that we love to take photographs by guides in the Kruger concessions as well as the private lodges around Africa and the park
    These animals are wild, living in a habitat that is as close to normal as can be expected and as such should be expected to act a little uncivilised if not extremely wild.
    I think that the familiarity brought on by exposure in safari parks, on TV and the actions of some of the presenters in these shows lead you to think that animals in parks are safe and as such are forgotten to be dangerous.
    Animals in the Kruger park are wild, dangerous and some, given the opportunity would probably eat you, where even somebody with a lifetime of experience should treat them with respect and not put them selves or their guests / tourists in danger.
    What for me is interesting when asked about this, is that I have been told by game guides repeatedly that they get asked often for that perfect shot and guests will pay / tip higher if the animal is posed, evoked into doing something fearsome or the guest is brought into close proximity to the animal.

    Now I believe that this is both unethical and dangerous to the animal as well as the guest.

    With a number of wildlife conservation guides as friends and family, I can assure you that the Kruger Park has extremely strict rules about the interaction with animals and the resulting shooting of an animal but unfortunately this doesn’t stop the tourist thinking that these are animals are partly tamed and as such used to cars and people invading their space.

    We need to remember it is their habitat and as such should be treated with upmost respect while enjoying the opportunity to interact with wildlife so that others will be able to enjoy this relationship into the future.

  4. Morkel Erasmus

    Good post Jono. I am very intrigued by the angle on elephant population control – with Sanparks having scrapped culling years ago, why would they not take every available angle to take out “rogue” elephants (as unsavoury as that may seem) given the current damage to vast stretches of unique flora and bush in the Kruger due to the escalating elephant numbers…?

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