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Written by: Nadav Ossendryver and Marius van der Walt for Latest Sightings

Marius van der Walt and the rest of his family had booked a night drive from Malelane Camp. While on their way to the car, his kids spotted a huge elephant next to the fence. They were excited by how close they could get to the magnificent beast. “Little did they know that they were going to get a lot closer!”

elephant-kruger

When back at camp, after a successful night drive, Marius and his wife were worried about animals coming into the camp, especially after the hyena incident recently. “She decided to pack chairs, tables, benches and even the dish washing rack all around us, with the idea that if a hyena tries to gain access to the tent, it will knock something over and alert us.”

The van der Walt family, consisting of Marius, Liezl, Jeandre and Lize-Mari, love the Kruger National Park. “We visit the park several weekends during the year.” They prefer camping in the park, as the tents are usually on the fence and Marius said that for them: “there is simply nothing better than setting up camp next to the fence, having a braai and listen to the night sounds.”

So on the night of the 16th, the fence was the place to be! “We saw a hyena patrolling the fence and passed our caravan several times during the evening. Then at around 8pm the same elephant we saw the day before, came right up to the fence, breaking off tree branches. It was noticeably calm and was not even put off by other campers shining spotlights on him.”

elephant-malelane-kruger

Marius said: “I was woken up around 2.30am by a noise next to Jeandre’s tent of something having fallen over. My wife’s alarm system worked! Preparing to meet the hyena face to face I grabbed a cricket bat and rushed outside still half asleep. I could not see any hyena but noticed that the white plastic seating bench was lying on its side and could not understand how this heavy thing could fall over by itself. I replaced the ‘alarm’ and went back inside the caravan. I was just about to climb into bed again when the weirdest metal crushing sound came from just outside the caravan again. Liezl shouted that she was sure it was the hyena dragging our braai around! I stumbled outside again and was suddenly wide-awake when the huge elephant stood literally on the fence a mere five metres away from the caravan’s rally tent.

elephant-malelane-kruger-national-park

“I froze for a second or two as this was the last thing you expect to find next to your caravan. Jeandre was also awoken by the fence-crushing act and asked what was going on. I remember whispering to him to just stay in his bed while I slowly climbed back in the caravan. So many thoughts go through your head, especially seeing how the elephant just crushed a fence effortlessly and your son is lying outside in a tent all by himself a few metres away. I knew I had to get Jeandre to the safety of the caravan but that this had to wait until the elephant was further away. That minute or two it took the elephant to move away felt like hours.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpless in my life! All we could do was watch the elephant through the caravan window and pray! I was so proud of Jeandre staying calm in his bed and not panicking.”

Marius finally managed to get Jeandre into the safety of the caravan and they were now all watching the elephant, which was trying to trample the electric fence a few metres further away but repeatedly receiving shocks that made it retreat. Marius and his family soon realised that the elephant was trampling the fence in order to exit the camp, not enter it! The elephant realised that he was not going to get out of the camp at this section of the fence and turned around, walking back to the caravans and tents.

elephant-kruger-national-park

“This was the first time I actually even thought of taking pictures. I grabbed my phone and took a pic: you can just see his rear as he is testing the fence trying to escape the camp. You can also see how skew the tent pole is as he pushed against it earlier. Realising the danger of animals wandering around inside the camp and that there must be a gap somewhere in the fence where the hyena or any other predator could also enter, I had to alert the park rangers.” Marius said that it took him quite a while to get through to authorities, but eventually got through to the right people. Marius also posted the sighting on the Latest Sightings App.

elephant-malelane

Liezl spoke to a Parks Board member, who said they eventually had to open the gate and chase the elephant out of the camp. They said the elephant entered through the staff village. Marius and his family went to have a look and were shocked to find that the fence on the staff accommodation side of the camp was not electrified and had been clearly trampled as well, similar as the fence next to their caravan.

By now it was after 3am and the family noticed the ranger’s bakkie driving around in the camp.
“With adrenalin pumping and two kids squeezed in with us in the small caravan double bed we just realised how lucky we were that things turned out the way it did. Of course we could not sleep again and Jeandre and I were at the gate by 6am this morning ready for another exciting day in the park.”

elephant-malelane-camp-kruger-national-park

Marius ended off: “That’s why I love Africa and especially Kruger National Park!”

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