Updated 16 January 2014

Why shoot the elephant?

How cut off from reality do you need to be not to recognise the danger of a charging elephant, asks Susan Erasmus.

How cut off from reality do you need to be not to recognise the danger of a charging elephant, asks Susan Erasmus.

Some people should not be allowed near game parks. Top of my list are the two tourists Sarah Brooks and Jans de Klerk, whose car was overturned by an elephant in the Kruger National Park. From the footage they appear to be almost stalking the increasingly enraged elephant. Experts have said the attack was preventable.
(Watch the video below)

I am no expert, but I don’t have to be to know that you don’t drive your car up a clearly agitated elephant’s backside and expect no consequences.

The elephant has been shot, reportedly because of its aggressive behaviour. I suspect the elephant was initially patient, gave several warning signals, and ample time for the couple to get away. Maybe it wasn’t the elephant whose behaviour was aggressive in this instant.

A message to all people who visit game parks: you are an intruder in the animals’ habitat. They are not circus animals trained to perform for your entertainment. They are in the wild, and so are you. Never forget that.

Silly tourists
I have spent a fair amount of time in various game parks and have watched some frightening tourist behaviour. I saw a guy in the Kgalagadi Game Park hanging halfway out his window to take a pic of a pride of lions not 10 metres away. And wildly chattering tourists on a game drive vehicle giggling among a large herd of enormous buffalo in the Addo.  And people feeding bits of leftover braai meat to hyenas through a camp fence in the Kruger. What the %*^&?

Unexpected things happen in the wild. Recently I was in the Sibuya Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. On a game drive, we rounded a corner and suddenly there was a young male elephant flapping its ears and mock charging the vehicle. The game ranger backed off as far as he could and then jumped up and shouted at the animal, much as one would at a naughty teenager. It worked. The teenage elephant skulked off into the bushes to grunt and to sulk. We got the hell out of there at the first opportunity. With a fully grown elephant the outcome might have been very different.

Wild animals are just that – wild
These are dangerous animals, and they have not signed a code of conduct with the game park in which they find themselves. It’s the law of the jungle out there, and you are pretty low down on the food chain, unless you are armed to the teeth. Even then, you would be wise not to take your chances. In an attack by a lion, a cheetah, a buffalo, a hyena, an elephant, to name but a few, your chances of survival are slim indeed.

If a hippo can bite through a crocodile, imagine what it could do to you.

Accidents happen, and that is why there are rules about what visitors should and shouldn’t do. There should be incredibly strict adherence to these – and significant punishments for infringing them.

But fortunately few animals will attack without giving a warning signal of some kind. Before you go into a game park, you need to know what these are.

Or even better, if you’re the kind of person who takes stupid chances when you’re in the wild, rather watch the nature programmes on TV. That way you can see what you want to in the comfort and safety of your own home.

And they won’t end up killing an elephant because you were trying to show off.

Here's the video footage of the elephant overturning the tourist's car.

Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer for Health24.




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