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What to do around Elephants

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Elephant attacks

Unread postby Richprins » Mon Oct 08, 2007 8:05 pm

If one looks at it mathematically, the chances of getting whacked are unlikely, to say the least!

However, I am a lover, not a fighter, and don't wnt to be a statistic.

I often even turn around and don't waste time when faced by a "joker" bull on the road, taking an alternative route...

All the advice on this thread is very good.

It must be stressed, though, that when encountering ellies, quickly scan the bush on either side, especially with breeding herds.

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Unread postby G@mespotter » Thu Nov 08, 2007 8:30 pm

We have been chased a few times, but only 3 times seriously..

As a general rule, I try to get 'next' to them, so that I dont have to reverse.. Secondly, there's no way I'll swith my engine off if they are close. :o

The most scary 'chase' was on the tar road to B&D, whole group of little ones + angry mothers. We were on our way back home with our Venter......all we could do is stop and see!!
Luckly they passed, and Im not scared of animals easily, but this...

This male was just 'playing', he kept us busy for 45 minutes!

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Fear of elephants

Unread postby Mathews » Tue Jul 15, 2008 4:36 am

Can anybody tell me if there has ever been a incident where an elephant has attacked a car in the Kruger. i know that people on walks were attacked by elephants, which is an accident, but what about any cars.

I am so scared of them that I get the jitters just thinking about coming across a bull flapping his ears wildly. :redface: My child has never seen them in the wild before, so I don't want to get the scarry jitters when I see them, I would like my child to enjoy them.

Can anybody give me some information on elephant behavior in the Kruger. I would really appreciate it. (I will also be using some rescue remedy during the drives ha-ha! :lol:)

Thank you - Mariaan

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Unread postby Wild@Heart » Tue Jul 15, 2008 6:31 am

Hi Mariaan ...

You're not going to like what I'm going to tell you .. but yes .. Elephants have attacked cars in the KNP.

Fortunately I can also add that not 1 tourist have ever been killed in such a case.

Elephants do charge (I've been a luck "victim" to survive that) :lol: But only because we "surprised" each other along the Sabie River on a very foggy morning. The other instances the elephant gave himself away in what mood he was and thus I could see what his attitude was from a mile away and make sure I give him enough space.

There are a few rules and logic to follow to avoid such situations.

1. Don't switch your engine off next to an elephant.
2. Give the elephants some space.
3. Look for bulls in musth .. they are the usual culprits who look for trouble. To see this, check the sides of the head. If it looks like there is moisture running down the face then you know to he is in musth. Alternatively .. Look between the legs .. Lots of moisture there on the hind legs and a dripping also indicates musth.
4. Keep your eyes open ... Elephants have a canning ability to "dissappear" into the bush. Coming around corners, areas with thick vegetation next to the road can lead to surprises, so just be aware.
5. Don't feed them :twisted: especially oranges :lol:
6. An elephant shaking his head and flapping his ears and giving a few rumbles is a sure indication that he is not happy with the situation. Back off until he seems to calm down. Then don't try to pass him until there is sufficient space. I've seen many people who were stormed by an elephant trying to pass them when there is not sufficient space between them. Sufficient space for me is when I know I can generally pass him at the same speed I would travel in the park. And then knowing if he wants to charge that I have MORE then enough time to accelerate away from him.
7. To identify if it's a "real" charge. In most cases the ears will move against the body and his/her trunk will be rolled up underneath the head. That's when you know generally that "it's on now" ..
8. Be EXTREMELY vigilant and carefull around breeding herds. There are young ones there and the herd is very very very protective of them. Since they do get large (the herds) :lol: Check around and make sure that you have a way to get out. Make sure you know where they elephant all are so that you don't suddenly realise that they have "closed" the road behind you.

These are some general rules .. But before you get too scared (like my mother-in-law who freaks out close to any elephant) :lol: Here are some sightings I've seen "unharmed"

On the Duke Mission .. The elephant was within 1 meter from our vehicle after just having had a little battle with another ellie and a tree .. He then moved off to go and take on the hippo's.

I've seen both my big tuskers within a range of 5 meters from them.

I've travelled through sever breeding herds of elephants and watch the babies from a distance of 10 meters.

What I'm saying is that not every elephant you encounter will charge. You sort of "learn" their mood and know when it's safe to approach and when to stay away.

In my view .. If you have a fear of elephants, keep your distance and enjoy the sighting rather then trying to get close to see more and stressing about the elephant.

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Unread postby Tumble Weed » Tue Jul 15, 2008 6:36 am


I believe there has been. :shock: However, the Kruger ele's are generally more tolerant of vehicles than in other parks I've been to. As long as you don't invade their space, you'll be fine.

Kruger provides many opportunities to view ele's from a safe distance. I find that if an ele is down a slope, in a river bed etc you are more than safe.

Why don't you just stop on one of the many bridges and look at them below.

P.S. Tape a plastic mouse on your bonnet :lol:

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Unread postby ndloti » Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:00 am

A number of vehicles have been attacked .
The most memorable attack I recall was a very close shave with death for ranger Douw Steyn . While in the Olifants / Letaba area his official vehicle was impaled by an irate elephant through the drivers door under the drivers seat which he was occupying at the time .
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Unread postby DotDan » Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:09 am

I agree with W@H, never turn off your vehicle whilst close to ellies. I have been mocked charged plenty of times and seriously charged once or twice.

While you in KNP you will see people trying to squeese through an ellie herd or past a big bull, please dont think that if they can do it so can I, rather wait untill they move away from the road.

If you are in the Letaba area, do yourself a favour and visit the Elephant museum as you and the youngster will truly learn alot.

Dont be scared, just be carefull, and dont forget that the same goes for buffalo. :)

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Unread postby wildtuinman » Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:46 am

There's been numerous incidents and some quite violent.

I recall Kobie Kruger writing to her husband, Kobus, ranger @ Croc Bridge, to go sort out an elephant on the Bume road, near Croc Bridge as it made short work of tourist cars and had one ended up against a tree.

I also remember a elephant pushing a tourist car into the Kanniedood dam. This story was told in a book called "Veldwagters vertel" if I am not mistaken.

Not too long ago this happened:

Media Release: Elephant Overturns Tourist Vehicle in the Kruger National Park: Date: 2006-04-11

An elephant bull overturned a tourist vehicle in the Kruger National Park (KNP) between Phalaborwa Entrance Gate and Letaba Rest Camp at about 10:45 this morning (Friday April 7, 2006).

The vehicle had four passengers, the 40-year old driver and three children who all sustained minor injuries and were transported to Phalaborwa after the incident.

According to an eyewitness, the occupants of the vehicle were looking at the elephant from a distance but, unfortunately, when the elephant advanced towards the vehicle, the driver could not drive off immediately as the engine was switched off.

The elephant attacked the vehicle on the driver’s side, between the driver’s door and the bonnet, and overturned it. Other tourists hooted to scare the elephant away.

“A few incidences of elephant aggression have been reported recently in the Park and we would like to advise tourists to be extra careful when they are at an elephant sighting in order to avoid incidents such as this unfortunate occurrence,” said Dr Bandile Mkhize, the Executive Director of the KNP.

The family of the victims has been contacted and informed about the incident. KNP Rangers tried to track down the elephant with a helicopter but unfortunately it could not be found.


Elephant overturns car.
Accidents do happen in the Kruger. An elephant bull overturned a vehicle between Phalaborwa and Letaba Camp on the 8th April slightly injuring the four passengers. The occupants had been watching elephants with the engine of their car switched off. The elephant in question approached the vehicle
and, before the driver could start the engine, overturned the car. Take home story? Take great care when watching elephants near the road. Elephants, especially bull elephants, are well known for their destructive habits when it comes to pushing over trees (and more recently overturning
cars it seems). We know this all to well from our own experience with Harry,the young bull that spent most of last year demolishing Ngwenya’s trees. But why do they do it? There are a number of theories. One suggestion is that
they engage in a kind of farming. By knocking over trees they stimulate resprouting. Another theory is that they do it to impress other elephants - either male or female.
A more recent suggestion is that they do it to build confidence before squaring off against other elephants. This explains why they push over other objects such as power lines and telephone poles. Such are the mysteries and wonders of our pachyderm friends.

And also this:

An incident in which a bull elephant in musth overturned a gameviewing vehicle with 10 terrified hikers on board in the Kruger National Park (KNP) was a ‘very rare occurrence’, according to an expert. It had also been unavoidable because the driver had been unable to reverse due to the presence of
other vehicles behind him, a veterinarian in the park told The Citizen yesterday. The elephant was shot dead after members of the game catcher unit tracked it down in the bush near
the road between Satara and Tshokwane after the incident on Saturday, it was confirmed. It was also believed the elephant had an abscess on its tooth which would have contributed to its ill temper.

It had gored a buffalo to death after overturning the vehicle in which a group of hikers were travelling with two park employees, one of them ranger Wouter Jordaan. No one was seriously injured, but the doors of the vehicle were damaged and a trailer was flattened. “It was quite exceptional. We have not had an incident like this in the Kruger Park for many years,”
the vet said.

Here is the Afrikaans version of the last story.
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Unread postby graemy » Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:31 pm

I think most of these last stories (although they are the real facts) are just going to make someone, who is already quite scared, completely terrified!!! Don't forget that each one of us that gives our opinion on this thread has already been to KNP and knows what it's like there. Here we are talking to someone who has never been there and might just imagine an irate ellie hiding behind each bush...

@mathews. I have a very healthy respect of elephants and you do need to be careful when they are around.
To enjoy your stay, I think you should do the following:
Stick to the tar roads. These are the roads where you have the most visibility. That means that most of the time you can see the ellies before you get close. Then it's up to you whether you stay and watch them from a good distance. If they are on the road, then stop at a good distance and wait for them to move off. You can go even further with this method and only choose, to start with, the tar roads that have really optimal visibilty. Once you start feeling comfortable then move on to other types of roads.
It becomes a little bit trickier on gravel roads because there is often less visibility. There is more chance on coming across an ellie that you hadn't seen.
What I'm saying is that there are ways of fully enjoying your stay without worrying all the time. Keep to roads where you feel comfortable and then you can try other smaller roads if you want. The thing is choice!
Please be aware that elephants are dangerous at times, but there are ways of keeping your car in a situation where you feel comfortable! Enjoy your stay!
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Unread postby DuQues » Tue Jul 15, 2008 1:26 pm

Mathews, I hope the mice you put on the car are indigenous? :wink:

But scary stories aside, if you see an elephant browsing from the bushes and or trees it means that (s)he's relaxed, and probably will not be any problem.
You can often pass at your ease, not at a high speed, just breezing along.
However as you'll find, young elephants are very playfull! If you're in the situation that they see you crawling towards them and they stop browsing and cross their frontlegs it's a sure sign of "I'm going to play with the tourist". Meaning it will not let you pass, often creating a trafficjam in both directions.

What to do then? Easy, back off to something like 50-70 meters and wait till it looses interest and moves on. You're in no hurry, it's vacation, and you might take a few great pics. Or look to the siode and spot that leopard you never saw, or that bird, or...
Not posting much here anymore, but the photo's you can follow here There is plenty there.

Feel free to use any of these additional letters to correct the spelling of words found in the above post: a-e-t-n-d-i-o-s-m-l-u-y-h-c

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Unread postby annalie » Tue Jul 15, 2008 2:05 pm

Threat displays by elephants include: turning towards you, spreading ears, standing tall, head-nodding, head-jerking, head-shaking and head-tossing, forward trunk-swish, demonstration and real charges.

To better explain the afore-mentioned:

Head-jerking is a single, abrupt upward movement, followed by a slower return.
Head-tossing is a pronounced version of the jerk, the head is lowered and then lifted sharply so that the tusks describe and arc.
In head-shaking, the head is first twisted to one side, then quickly rotated from side to side, causing the ears to slap against the face with the sound of a snapping towel.
The forward trunk-swish, typically accompanied by trumpeting or and air blast, is a threat usually addressed to a smaller antagonist. The trunk is rolled up and then abruptly unfurled ans swished toward the antagonist. Using the same gesture, elephants sometimes pick up or rip up and throw bushes, grass or other objects towards the antagonist.
Standing tall is a dominant display, resembling the alert posture, but the head is raised higher and the elephant peers over it's tusks, ears cocked and trunk hanging at an acute angle.
Spreading of ears and holding them tensely forward or flapping them is a clear indication of defensive behaviour.

I have also heard and read somewhere, that when an elephant means business, it nearly always comes immediately and without warning, except for a momentary rocking motion of its body, sometimes even without a sound. The tail stiffens, the tusks are held high and the trunk is drawn in against the chest. The ears are usually, but not always, spread to their full extend giving the head a most awesome frontage.

Elephants can also be timid to a point of absurdity. A large bird landing nearby, the presence of a squirrel or a mongoose blocking the path is often enough to alarm them, and sometimes the whole herd will bustle away from a purely imaginary danger. (So I think the toy mouses attached to the car will do the trick :lol: )

But, you are on vacation, do not worry about what may and what may not happen with the ellies. Just be careful and give them and yourself some personal space and enjoy the ride!
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Unread postby graemy » Tue Jul 15, 2008 2:36 pm

wildtuinman wrote:
graemy wrote:I think most of these last stories (although they are the real facts) are just going to make someone, who is already quite scared, completely terrified!!! Don't forget that each one of us that gives our opinion on this thread has already been to KNP and knows what it's like there. Here we are talking to someone who has never been there and might just imagine an irate ellie hiding behind each bush...

If you take into consideration that nearly 1,500,000 visit Kruger every year, it just shows how scarce these incidents are. But it also proofs that you shouldn't think that it could not happen.

I do agree with you WTM, but I think in this case the natural fear that comes through on "mathew's" post will prevent them from thinking "that it could not happen."
This is someone who is posting in order to be reassured so that they can enjoy their stay. I can hardly see them being unwary, uncautious and reckless. Giving the facts head on is definitely important, but I did find that several posters on this thread just came up with a few examples of terrifying attacks, without tempting to reassure.
These articles about attacks are very relevant and interesting, but do they belong on a thread where someone is just about wetting their pants just thinking about ellies? As I said, I think their own fear will keep them from being reckless...
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Unread postby annalie » Tue Jul 15, 2008 3:40 pm

graemy wrote:@ annalie. Great description!

Thanx Graemy. It comes from years and years of having a healthy fear and respect for elephants and reading up on them.

Mathews, that is correct, I am very afraid of elephants, but that has not stopped me from going back time and again to one of the most amazing places on earth, namely the KNP. My SO knows about my fear for ellies, so we normally just keep our distance from them. Then again, we have had ellies, less than 2-3 meters from our vehicle when passing them while they are feeding without any problems. In some of the camps e.g. Letaba, Skukuza, Olifants, Mopanie, Shingwedzi, Berg & Dal and Lower Sabie, you can watch them feeding from the safety of the camp where the camp has lookout points over rivers/dams.
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Unread postby sandiem » Tue Jul 15, 2008 4:28 pm

Don't be scared Matthews........ Good common sense and patience, patience and more patience is what it takes.....

I know we waited for what seemed an age once when an elephant blocked our road and just wouldn't go, we backed up and he came towards us, we backed up again and waited, and waited............ He stood and flapped his ears at us, then stood and looked at us for what seemed an eternity!! He had all the time in the world and it occured to me at the time that we were going to have to play the same game.... at a safe distance ready at any time to beat a hasty retreat!!

We were lucky ........ there was only one other car next to us who had the good sense to do just the same and eventually our ellie got bored and moved off to the side of us.

We didn't take our eyes off him and we drove off pretty smartly without giving any indication of our discomfort!! Wouldn't want him to think we were scared!! :wink:

We have only been to the KNP twice before so I am definetely no expert!!! but that only happened on one occasion....... other encounters with elephants have been pretty uneventful and they have been numerous, except when we were once on foot on a bush walk but you then put all your faith in the ranger!!! and do as you are told without question!!! Quick!!!

Don't let your fear upset your gamewatching, do everything you have either read or have been told and your children will take home the most amazing special memories.

Happy gamewatching!!!

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Unread postby Patto » Tue Jul 15, 2008 4:29 pm


A quick question, and maybe it has been answered elsewhere, why are the Kruger Ellies more "angrier" animals than say the Ellies of Addo for instance? I asked this question while on a night drive in April in Kruger and the guide couldnt give me an answer.

To put it into context, I was in Addo earlier this year, and a mother Ellie and her calf were next to the road. The baby was extremely small and I got a little nervous. I kept a bit of distance, but she and the calf walked close to my car. I monitored her mood the whole time and she remained calm. I was very surprised, and stood my ground, and she walked straight past my car. The baby came close, so close I could literally almost touch it!!! Now if I stopped near a Mommy Ellie in Kruger at the same distance I wouldnt be writing this post now, I would surely be flatter than pancake :lol:

Could it have something to do with culling that happened in Kruger in the past and the Ellies have remembered it? I know culling has never happened in Addo and this is the only thing that I can think of that has happened in Kruger but not in Addo that would cause Ellies to be "violent" towards people in their vehicles.

Your comments on this would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and kind regards,

Pat :D
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