When on safari in Africa, while you are driving around in either your car or on a game viewing vehicle driven by a guide, the only animal that poses a possible threat is old Loxodonta africana, the African Elephant. On foot it’s a different ball game, where any of the ‘Big Five’ – Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, Rhinoceros and Elephant – can be potentially dangerous, but in a car you are fairly safe. Or in fact probably more like very, very safe, if you consider how many vehicles there are in a place such as the Kruger National Park and how many incidents there are with elephants. You’re probably more likely to be run over by a bus a hundred feet from your front door… Incidents do happen though, and very recently some photos of a big elephant bull turning over a small car in the Kruger have gone viral on the internet. The British couple who were in the car at the time it was put on its roof were not injured seriously but probably had the fright of their lives, and I’m sure will probably never come on a safari again. While this is certainly an eye-opener, one has to realize that most elephants are fairly happy with cars in close proximity and that even if an elephant shows some aggression, the chances that it actually makes any physical contact with the vehicle are fairly small. As I always say, cool, calm and collected is the way to deal with 95% of your elephant encounters, and you just need to know when it’s one of the 5% which requires some kind of reaction from you – either revving your engine, banging on your door, or getting out of there as fast as possible in a worst-case scenario. The Photo of the Day shows a big elephant bull in musth walking very close to the vehicle without showing any kind of displeasure or ‘aggression’. We can tell he’s in musth – the terms for the male’s breeding phase – by the wet insides of the back legs, where he is dribbling a strong smelling secretion from his penis. He also has he ‘weeping’ from the temporal gland behind the eye, but this can also occur in non-musth related situations. The back legs however are diagnostic, and if you were there you would have smelled him as he walked past. So this was an occasion to be more alert to signs of displeasure, but the lack of any negative body language was enough to persuade the guide to just sit tight and let him ease past. And that’s the difference between professional guides and the general public – guides are experienced in handling elephants, while the public may be overly afraid of a young ‘cheeky’ bull, or else oblivious to the signs that a 6-ton bull is about to turn them on their roof. I’m not saying that the public always get it wrong or that guides always get it right, but experience counts.
EOS 5D Mk 1
EF 35 – 350 mm USM L-series