What to do around Elephants

Moderator: RosemaryH

User avatar
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 688
Joined: Thu Dec 28, 2006 3:30 pm
Location: Back Home

Close encounters of the E kind.

Unread post by adw »

On Saturday 20/01/07 entered the Knp via Malelane gate. I had not travelled more than 2 to 3 kms when I met Jumbo walking down the main road.
This is not normally a problem as I would simply reverse.
However I was towing my Xcape caravan and quite honestly I cannot reverse long distances without getting into a jackknife situation.
The best I can do is maybe 100 metres.
So here comes Jumbo and every moment he is growing in size and eventually I cannot reverse any further not only because of jackknifing but at least 3 cars had now crept up to the rear of my caravan.
So I waited and when about 30 metres away he decides to browse on a bush growing on the roadside.
After about 5 minutes I could not bear the tension anymore.
Jumbo also decides to flap his ears and starts walking towards my vehicle.
I now was desperate as I was unable to reverse or take to the veld as the bush was too dense.
I then moved forward slowly and kept as far left as I could.
He was now agitated and when I reached him I accelerated as fast as my car could go.
When I was level with him he shook his head at me and let out a rush of air (not a trumpet).
When I passed him we were no more than a foot apart.
Once I passed him I was able to slow down and recover my composure.
I can assure you I never ever want to go through that again.
I would be interested to know if other members have had a similar experience when towing a caravan and how they handled the situation.
For the record I love photographing elephants and have the greatest amount of respect for them.
When not towing I still feel in control but when encumbered with towing a caravan you are no longer in control.
The elephants are!!!!!!
User avatar
Posts: 40079
Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2005 6:31 pm
Location: Tinley Manor Beach

Unread post by Elsa »

Yes, adw, can fully sympathise with that hair raising situation, many years we were also towing a caravan and were on a fairly narrow dirt road when along towards us walks a huge Ellie, after reversing as much as possible we also got to the situation where we could not go any further back.
I had one of those big fold out maps in those days which I proceeded to cover myself with, :redface: not really sure why, other than to block out the image of this huge grey mass getting closer and closer. :shock:
All I remember now is my SO saying, Oh well, I might as well take a pic of this lot, at least we can show the insurance company who did the damage. :roll:
But at the last minute it walked into the bush and started drinking at a resevoir to the right of us, which we are pretty sure was where it was going anyway.

The relief was enormous.
Take time each day to be with nature
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 695
Joined: Sat Jan 15, 2005 1:29 pm
Location: Durban, Kwa Zulu Natal, SA

Unread post by Penny »

Oh yes we have been down that road too. We came over the Letaba River Bridge one year and there is a slight incline on the one side, my hubby wanted to sit on the bridge but I had seen cars reversing up ahead so urged him onwards. We were towing a fully laden trailer. Only when we got to the top of the incline did we see what all the fuss was about - 3 HUGE tuskers walking straight down the road. Two cars sped away and left us to face them. We also tried the reversing trick but the trailer jack-knifed so we had to just sit it out. The kids covered themselves with a blanket on the back seat and started praying whilst I covered my face with my arms and refused to look. That left poor hubby to face the music alone - well two of the elephant just waltzed off into the bushes but the third and biggest came on straight to our car. When he got to the engine he turned his trunk around to sniff it and my husband said he could virtually count the hairs in his nostrils! Having smelt us and decided we were no threat he merely toddled off to join his compatriots alongside the road and we drove off with hearts racing and adrenaline on a terrifically high level.

Never again we stop 500 metres away if we are towing a trailer and not much closer even without!
24 Sept 2015 Hlane, 25-2 Burchells, 2-4 Elephant Plains, 4-7 Satara, 7-9 Pretoriouskop, 9-15 Ngwenya, 16 Hluhluwe
The addiction is fed once again
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2007 8:56 am
Location: Pretoria, South Africa

Unread post by LizB »

Jip, everytime I'm in the Kruger and we come accross elephants, and there are people sitting in cars just a few metres away .............. I know for a fact that they never had a close encounter with an elephant! :lol:

We weren't towing a trailer but we were driving a Venture that we borrowed from my sister for the trip ..... to have a bit of height in the bush. But, the trick with the car was that it had a bit of trouble getting into reverse gear! Everytime we stopped for animals, it took a while to get the car in reverse just too see them again!

So now you drive up to an ellie next to the road, but see that the ellie is a bit agitated. So we stopped to look, but when those big ears started flapping and his front leg went to and fro . . . I knew that he did not want us to look at him! The next moment he came russing to the road and right at us. All I could see was ears. A miracle happened and my mom got that car in reverse gear without any hassle! I think she used all her powers! Hahah! The guy behind us luckily also reversed quickly. The elephant stopped and walked back to the same Mopani tree. That magnificent creature had us stuck there for quite a while before we drove slowly up to it again and then put the foot on the petrol till we were clear of danger!

Now we stop so far away from these huge animals, we almost need binoculers to see it! :D
User avatar
Posts: 43
Joined: Tue Jan 02, 2007 2:35 pm
Location: UK

Unread post by Winny »

Hi all,

I was under the impression that if an elephant is wandering along, and you are parked, and the elephant is not looking agitated at all then there is nothing to worry about and he'll just walk on by, as he is choosing to come near you and he does not feel threatened.

I thought the only time to reverse or worry was if the elephant shows any sign of being annoyed, or is in musth.

Is this not the case after all?


User avatar
Senior Virtual Ranger
Senior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 621
Joined: Tue Jan 18, 2005 9:55 pm

Unread post by madach »


I've been in this situation a couple of times and each time it's different situation so it's hard to make general comments but what I would have done in your case is the following:

I would have parked the car and trailer on the side of the road where you wouldn't bother the elephant and wait for it to pass. You said that it was browsing on a bush near you. That is a clear sign that it's relaxed and not bothered by your presence. If you would have just parked at the side of the road then it would probably have just walked past you and maybe would have given you a head shake as it passed by to warn you not to do anything stupid.

In your case by driving towards the elephant you are moving into his comfort zone and forcing the elephant into a decision. In your case it worked out fine, but you could clearly see that it was distressed as it exhaled loudly. In this case the elephant decided to let you pass, but by forcing it into a decision you took a risk. Generally speaking it's better to let the animal make the decisions and resolve the situation than force it into a decision.

User avatar
Senior Virtual Ranger
Senior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 621
Joined: Tue Jan 18, 2005 9:55 pm

Re: Close encounters of the E kind.

Unread post by madach »

adw wrote:thanks Madach, I will bear this in mind if this situation occurs again. I presume you leave your engine running whilst parked on the side of the road?

Although elephants in KNP are perfectly relaxed with cars that have their engine running I would have switched off the car. If you leave the engine running then you're a very noisy and smelly object and that might irritate the elephant (although it is very unlikely). Having the engine running wouldn't help anyway because should the elephant decide to take a go at you then you'd never be able to get out of its way quick enough while towing a trailer :roll:
User avatar
Posts: 18
Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2005 9:01 am

Unread post by webb »

I have unfortunately had many similar experiences.
I call it the curse of the trailer.
it seems every time i hitch one on the back of the car i come across a musth bull elephant.

my most recent experience happened on the 7th of January this year on the morning i was leaving the park.
we came across two stopped cars who had stopped some 20m away from an elephant who looked like he had given them a bit of a rev.
I stopped behind the cars and we all waited for him to disappear however he continued to graze on a tree right next to the road.

Eventually i decided to edge forward very slowly and stop a bit closer to him.
I noticed that although he carried on feeding he was definitely very aware that i had come a little closer (now about 12m away) he continued feeding for a short time but then suddenly swung his head around and walked straight up to the car ears flapping and tummy rumbling.
I stood my ground only because i had no choice.
We had a stand off (now about 2m from the, and looking like the biggest elephant i have ever seen in my life!! :shock: ) after about a minute he swung his head around and started to walk off the road.

At this point i thought i had won the stand off and he had backed down.
However my victory was short lived as he suddenly decided that he wasn't going to be intimidated by me and he turned again and rushed at the car from the side (this time he stopped about 1m away).
The stand off continued because i knew if i tried to drive away he was going to go for me and he definitely would have got me because he was way to close.
Suddenly he went down on his front knees and his was my chance, I’m not sure what his next move was but i knew exactly what mine was.
Foot flat on the accelerator and out of there!
He got up and gave us chase for about 40m before giving up.

Now with the nerves completely rattled we were all joking in the car about what each one of us was doing during the stand off. One was apparently swearing at me(Mom) the other was looking out the window on the opposite side of the car (sister) and the third was eyeballing the elephant in a complete state of shock (Dad).

As we laughed and drove over the next rise guess who we see walking down the road straight towards us??????????????

Yip Musth Elle No2 for the morning.
This time we had enough time to reverse the trailer into an opening in the bush and do a u-turn and we sped off back towards Elle No1 who was about 2km away at this stage.
We decided to get out of view of the 2nd elephant with the Theory that if he couldn't see us then he might loose interest in chasing cars and wonder off into the bush.
So we stopped on the road out of view and had a cup of coffee to pass the time.
No sooner had we poured the coffee and i noticed something running in the road way in the distance.
So down with the coffee mugs and off we go to investigate.
I couldn’t believe it, a pack of wild dogs on the prowl.
Thank you elephant number 2 for making us turn back on ourselves! :lol:
Posts: 15
Joined: Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:23 am

Ambushed by a grumpy elephant!

Unread post by Digby »

My SO and I were on honeymoon in the KNP in August 1988 when this heart stopping adventure occurred.

We had slept at Shingwedzi and, for once, were early and ready and waiting at the camp’s back gate, intending to drift down the river road to the Kanniedood dam. We had only a diesel bakkie with two guys in front of us.

The gate opened on time and we started our adventure. Everyone was very well behaved and the expected grand prix didn’t develop.

We always take all of the river loops and the bakkie guys were doing the same, so we stayed behind them and gave them some space.

On one of the loops the road runs down steeply, close to the river and turns back on itself, with the end the loop being a short uphill return to the entry/exit road.

The bakkie guys were stopped at the end of the loop at its lowest point. The veld in the centre of the loop was fairly thick with grass, bush and trees. We approached quietly and cautiously, so as not to spoil their sighting, whatever it was.

When they moved on around the end of the loop and started the uphill return, all hell broke loose!

A large bull elephant had been snoozing on the road and the growl of the diesel engine tackling the small hill woke him up. He wasn’t very happy about it and was trumpeting his displeasure!

Reverse lights – the bakkie was coming our way! Through the bush we could see the elephant’s feet making haste down the hill towards the bakkie. We had to reverse quickly to give them some room.

Fortunately, Grumpy stopped and moved off the road, down into the veld at the end of the loop. We drove back to the river road, staying behind the bakkie.

We continued slowly, all of us on high alert for Old Grumpy. We knew he was in the bush on the left somewhere . . . . he had to be.

Big mistake!

Unbeknown to us, Grumpy had already crossed the road and had taken up a commanding position, about 25 meters away from the right side of the road, which was bending to the right gradually. From his new position in the bush he was equidistant for the whole radius of the corner.

Suddenly, we heard trumpeting from the right and saw the bakkie guys jerk with the fright they got. We got just as big a fright and my specs almost fell off my nose. Now I understood the expression “I nearly died with fright!” Trumpeting is a scary sound when you can't see the elephant.

The bakkie guys decided to carry on and speed through the corner and outrun Grumpy, who was closing on them gradually. We stopped as Grumpy would have outflanked us.

He soon lost interest in the bakkie and returned to his command post. He could always have some fun with us.

We watched him for a while as he started his breakfast. I was beginning to think that this wasn’t the first time he had played this game.

As soon as we moved forward, Grumpy stopped pretending to eat and headed our way. I was committed and had to carry on around the bend or he would have got too close for comfort. Stopping wasn’t an option. I had a company car and how was I going to explain it getting bashed up by an elephant!

He chased us until we reached the end of the turn and outpaced him. He stopped. He had lots of other cars to play with, so why waste energy on us.

It was a great start to the day and an exciting prelude to the leopard we found at the dam, but that’s another story.

Even now, all those years later, I still get butterflies thinking about it. It was very exciting, but scary too.
User avatar
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 236
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:18 am
Location: Cape Town

Re: Ambushed by a grumpy elephant!

Unread post by Rookie »

Oh my word! I can just feel your anxiety! :big_eyes:

I am sure that almost everybody on this forum has had some sort of run-in with an ellie and it is something that you never forget. :thumbs_up:
KTP - 27/12 - 3/1/16
User avatar
Posts: 47950
Joined: Thu Dec 30, 2004 5:54 pm
Location: The Beautiful Cape

Re: Ambushed by a grumpy elephant!

Unread post by DinkyBird »

Grumpy sounds like he makes a habit out of giving visitors a nice adrenalin rush ... :lol: I would also get sweaty palms long after an experience like that!

Waiting on the leopard story :whistle:
- Dalene
User avatar
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 210
Joined: Fri Dec 03, 2004 6:51 am
Location: Vanderbijlpark

Re: Ambushed by a grumpy elephant!

Unread post by Herman »

I know the feeling - we had more than one encounter with an ellie at Mooiplaas ! Excitement ? Fear more likely in my case - I'm not an elephant fan at all , but my wife loves them and with her doing most of the driving in the park, I get waaayy too close to them far too often !!
Posts: 44
Joined: Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:53 pm

What to do around Elephants

Unread post by granny »

Been reading and discussing different opinions on what to do around Elephants in the park. Should one drive slowly slowly away,wait whilst car is idling, or switch off engine completely? If the Elephant is in middle of the road walking towards the car, should one reverse or do one of the above? :hmz:
User avatar
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Posts: 14519
Joined: Fri Jan 14, 2005 5:42 pm
Location: Red sand, why do I keep thinking of red sand?

Re: Correct behavior around Elephants

Unread post by DuQues »

All animals (including humans) have different zones, from comfortable to too close (attack!). You can read more in this pdf.
That pdf is more aimed at lions and such, but the principle is the same.

So keep distance, and relax. Observe what the ellie is doing.
If it is eating, no problem.
If it starts ear flapping and/or kicking up dust you are too close.
If the ears flatten and the trunk rolls up it is time to get the hell out of its way. A charge will come!
Now in the last case you may have made not one error (getting too close) but two: turning off the engine.

However you can become enclosed in a herd without knowing it. Then it is a matter of turning off engine and fans. Relax and make photos.
The making photos is one you should do with an eye on the ellies though. Many lenses use an Ultrasonic motor for focusing. You can not hear that sound, ellies can! And they do not like the sound. If you notice them taking offence at it set the lens to manual focus, or stop photographing.

Ellies in the road can force you to reverse. There the zone system comes in again, make sure you reverse far enough, and he/she will soon veer off to a yummy looking branch. And the next, the next, and soon you have the space to pass.
User avatar
Duke Ellieton
Posts: 4842
Joined: Mon Jun 19, 2006 6:13 pm
Location: Centurion, ZA

Re: Correct behavior around Elephants

Unread post by Duke Ellieton »

granny, do you have an entry permit to KNP from one of your trips. There is a section titled, "Elephants - General Rules for safe Viewing"
Post Reply