Humans and Elephant Encounters

We have had a graduate student extensively monitoring the elephant on a daily basis since the beginning of the year, with the express objective to ascertain how the elephant react to the various situations they are placed under by guests and guides while viewing the elephant on their game drives. The major finding is the frightening number of game sighting rules that are infringed, with the rules most frequently violated being game drive vehicles not keeping the sighting distance of 50 meters, not turning off the engine while on sighting, and driving back and forth on sightings. Every time one of these rules are broken, it stresses the elephants. All of these violations lead to unnecessary stress for the elephants and will lead to them reacting to the presence of the vehicles by altering their behaviour. Furthermore, when the guides do not keep to the correct sighting distance, they put their guests at risk. If a game viewer is parked 30 meters away from an elephant that is pressured into reacting to a threat, that game viewer will have 20 meters less to get away. Sightings can change in an instant. Considering that it is being found that most of the guides on game drives are unable to read elephant behaviour and the signs the elephants do give before even considering a mock charge or a real charge, makes this violation even more serious. The single most significant conclusion that has been reached from these recorded and analysed infringements at elephant sightings, is that management are now absolutely certain that in excess of an estimated 90% of the supposed elephant problems that are reported, are in fact problems that arise from the behaviour of reserve users and not the elephant.

[Extract from the Mabula Private Game Reserve Annual Report Reserve Management Division feedback.]

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I wonder what the situation is in Pilanesberg, as when looking at this statement, one must consider the fact, that in Mabula, the only private viewing allowed is by the “Whole Owners” , who form a very small part of the visitor community. Therefore the vast majority of these sightings occur under the jurisdiction of FGASA qualified guides, who are employed by the reserve.

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