Death by Elephant

Death by Elephant

elechargeAnother two tourists were killed by elephant Saturday.

There are conflicting accounts of the deaths. The official Zambian police report claims that the 57-year old Belgian woman walked “too close” to take photos. But family members of the two killed told the Lusaka Times “the duo were looking at the giant mammals from a distance” and were charged unexpectedly.

In the big scheme of things, here’s why the details matter less than you might think.

According to Zambian police two elephants wandered onto the ground of Maramba Safari Lodge near Victoria Falls. The Belgian woman moved towards them to obtain better pictures. When one of the elephants charged her, a Dutch male comrade raced towards her as protection and the elephant also killed him.

The preceding week an elephant trampled a Zambian worker on his way to work for United Air Charter at Victoria Falls. Police said the man was cycling to work as he had for a number of years through a protected wilderness area. The report claims that when the worker saw the elephant ahead, he ditched his bike and ran into the forest where the elephant pursued and killed him.

African police reports of tourists deaths are notoriously unreliable. But we shouldn’t take for granted counter reports – even from family members – without fuller evidence.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter. Likely by the end of this year double the normal 12 tourists killed annually by elephant will have been recorded even as tourists numbers in these areas of human/animal conflict are flat or falling slightly.

Within the last year tourists have been killed by elephants in Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. There are likely more.

Perhaps the most notable killing by an elephant this year was in July also near Victoria Falls.

For a number of years the elephant gave rides to tourists. It trampled to death its handler of many years.

Elephant rides are a popular attraction especially around Victoria Falls. Although most domesticated and circus elephants are Indian, African elephants can also be domesticated. The reason they normally weren’t has to do with their size: they’re much larger than Indian elephants so more difficult to handle. There’s nothing different in their personalities that makes one more trainable than the other.

For many years I had numerous clients insisting on taking elephant rides in Botswana or around Victoria Falls. There had been no reported incidents until July, although rumors of “disturbed” elephants in Botswana closed their riding attractions there for several months last year.

As I’ve been saying now for a number of years, there are too many elephants. This is a fact of the growing human/animal conflict. It’s not necessarily the elephants’ fault. Nor can people be faulted for developing.

Culling is not usually the answer. Culling usually doesn’t work outside of very heavily managed and clearly demarcated areas like Kruger National Park. It would not work, for example, in Victoria Falls which consists mostly of private lands developed for tourism.

Then what to do? It’s pretty simple from the tourist point of view.

Stay safely away and protected from elephants.

This means never take a game walk. Don’t entertain an elephant ride. When elephant appear in your camp or lodge grounds, go inside. There’s never been a report of an elephant busting into a structure, which it could do quite easily.

Watching elephants on safari is still exciting and grand. Provided you’re inside your vehicle.