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Driving Near Elephants

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Driving Near Elephants

I've done self drive safaris in Namibia, Zim and Botswana and guided safaris in Tanzania, but advice I've been given on how to deal with elephants in the road has varied.

Everyone seems agreed that if the elephants are approaching, the best course of action is to stop.

However, I've then been given different advice- some people say turn the engine off and let the elephants pass. Others have said keep the engine idling and rev it gently if they get too close.

I;ve then read other advice saying revving the engine is the worst thing you can do.

I know its probably a bit late to be asking but whats the correct protocol for dealing with elephants in the road?

Also, does the same advice apply for other big game such as buffalo and rhino?

Washington DC...
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1. Re: Driving Near Elephants

Bradt gives the advice shown below in its guide books. It would be instructive to hear from some guides who occasionally post here.

Driving near big game

The only animals which are likely to pose a threat to vehicles are elephants – and generally only elephants which are familiar with vehicles. So, treat them with the greatest respect and don't 'push' them by trying to move ever closer. Letting them approach you is much safer, and they will feel far less threatened and more relaxed. Then, if the animals are calm, you can safely turn the engine off, sit quietly, and watch as they pass you by.

If you are unlucky, or foolish, enough to unexpectedly drive into the middle of a herd, then don't panic. Keep your movements, and those of the vehicle, slow and measured. Back off steadily. Don't be panicked, or overly intimidated, by a mock charge – this is just their way of frightening you away. Professionals will sometimes switch their engines off, but this is not for the faint-hearted.

Berkhamsted, United...
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2. Re: Driving Near Elephants

Some more personal views from posters:



Kruger National...
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3. Re: Driving Near Elephants

Hi everyone,

This is something I am very passionate about. Too often, the animals get blamed if they charge cars/people, when more often than not (except in some cases obviously), a large part of the blame should also be sifted to the humans in the situation.

My experience with elephants in the Kruger, our own reserve, and other reserves come down to a few golden rules.

This is what I posted in another elephant related subject, and I hope it helps.

"There are often misconceptions about elephants, which are spurred on by media images of them tossing cars etc, as what happened in the Pilanesberg in 2010. However, what you don't hear is that the elephants that were causing the problems (Amarula & before him, Steroid) were treated badly by humans when they were younger, especially Steroid who had to watch his mother being badly abused by people. As they say, an elephant never forgets.. Unfortunately Steroid had to be put down, as he almost killed a group of tourists in the Pilanesberg center.

Further to this, a lot of people coming from overseas feel that our national parks are 'zoos' almost, and that the animals are tame. This causes a lot of problems as instead of respecting the animals and giving them space (as kindly you did), they rev their engines and approach the animals, or call out to them 'Here kitty kitty', etc, which of course doesn't go down to well. I have even seen people getting out of cars to approach animals for a better photo!

Generally speaking, whenever we approach animals in our vehicle we ALWAYS turn off the engine. Especially with elephants - the rumbling actually disrupts their communication with their herd members, hence why they may become a little unnerved and on edge. We usually park about 20 metres away, and allow them to approach us. This way, if they want to (elephants are very curious - but careful - animals) approach us and come and see what we are all about, they can, and we are not infringing on their comfort zone.

We usually judge each situation as it comes, and tell by their body language whether it is safe for us to be there or not. We have had some wonderful experiences - I have had a baby come right up and give me a stick through the window, or elephants putting their trunks all over us and sniffing the area.

HOWEVER - Please note that I live on a reserve thus have contact with elephants often - I would not suggest approaching elephants willy nilly unless you are confident that you can read the situation :-).

There are a hundred different ways that elephants flap their ears, move their trunks, and position their body that are all clues as to what they are thinking.

In most cases, for overseas visitors, I would recommend:

- If elephants are on the side of the road eating:

Approach quietly and slowly, ensuring you are a safe distance away. If their behavior changes, i.e they stop eating for more than around 1 minute, then I would suggest to move on. A general rule of thumb in this situation is that if they continue eating, they have considered you a non-threat.

- Elephants crossing the road:

Stop a safe distance away, making sure that you are not in their line of direction, especially if there are babies. Wait for them to finish crossing, then continue on slowly & admire the beautiful creatures!

- Coming towards you

Here you can really only judge by the situation. It depends heaps on if it is a breeding herd, a lone bull, a lone bull in musth, a bull trying to show a younger one 'how it's done' etc.. Elephants will generally see & hear you coming before you notice them. So I would suggest doing exactly what the original poster did, slowly and surely.

Elephants are my favorite, so I tend to spend a lot of time with them when I can. The ones on our reserve allow us to get out of our bakkie (pick up truck/ute), move to the back of it, and 'be one' with them. But again - This is trust that is built up.

I just want to cement that my advice is only my opinion - I am not saying that this is a sure fire way. It is only what I do in these situations based on my experience.

Wishing you all the best,



to add to this, we have had some wonderful experiences with ellies when we let them approach us. Lots of sniffing, exploring, curiosity. They are amazing creatures and should be treated as such :-).

I agree that the WORST advice is to keep the engine idling and rev it. If you come across a bull in musth, or a grumpy matriarch, or, to be honest, any other ellie who feels you are in their zone, this will NOT prove fruitful. The only time I could see this potentially working is if it was a young elephant who tried to be too big for his boots :-).

I'm sure you will all be fine - just pay respect to them, and don't enter their comfort zone 'uninvited'. :-).

All the best,



Lodge Trackers Safari Specialists

Harare, Zimbabwe
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4. Re: Driving Near Elephants

Really good advice from Jacqui. The Parks are where the elephants live. Its not a "zoo". We are in their space, and their home.

Elephants are wonderful, highly intelligent animals. It is a privilege to see them in their natural abode.

Generally , respect all the animals and apply the same rules and you won't have a problem.

Manchester, United...
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5. Re: Driving Near Elephants

Hi LS13

Like you I have done many safaris in Tanzania and Southern Africa. From personal experience and many discussions I am convinced that elephants are unpredictable and potentially dangerous to vehicles. We love elephants and regard them as the most interesting and complex of all animals, but this seems to bring its own problems. They can act in the opposite way to any advice you have been given.

I have seen many tourists getting too close and not allowing themselves an escape route. without doubt the most care must be taken with mothers and small babies. In Tarangire our driver guide stayed a respectful distance as a small group crossed the road aheadl. After a little one crossed the matriarch brought up the rear. looked at us then walked into the bush. It then reappeared charging at us. No waning, no flapping ears, no mock charge. Our drive fired the engine and swerved the Toyota, Missed by inches.

6. Re: Driving Near Elephants

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