Back in October 2015 Stephanie Rendon was enjoying an evening game drive in South Africa’s Madikwe Safari Lodge, and came upon a group of elephants. The matriarch was not happy with the appearance of these tourists, as is evident in the video below. Please also read below the video the frank reply from the lodge owners to our request for feedback:
She commented on the video saying that, “Michael was our guide and we were so happy to have him leading our charge. This was one of the highlights of our honeymoon and certainly the highlight of the game drives. My husband filmed this entire scene. I dropped my camera after the first charge, I was scared silly. Hope everyone who visits Madikwe Safari Lodge has a life changing experience. We loved it.”
Upon seeing the above video clip, Africa Geographic contacted Madikwe Safari Lodge for comment and were sent the following statement:
On the morning of Friday 26th August, it was in horror that we watched a clip filmed on safari at Madikwe Safari Lodge in October 2015, where a honeymoon couple and vehicle full of guests endured an almost-7-minute elephant charge under the control of one of our field guides. Despite being mortified that this abominable behavior was from one of our own, we are extremely grateful to have seen this clip, as we are now able to ensure that a situation like this is never repeated, and that the guide in question is dealt with appropriately.
We would like to address a few different aspects of this very unfortunate encounter.
1. How the encounter should have been handled
By any professional guiding standards, respect of wildlife and the environment is akin to the Hippocratic oath in the medical fraternity. The behaviour of this guide was anything but respectful. Gawie Grobler, General Manager of Marataba South Africa and long-time field guide within the MORE group, has provided his synopsis of the clip below, as well as given his view on how the situation should have been handled:
“The guide saw the elephant herd from a distance. He could also see that the breeding herd had a specific path they were following towards a waterhole. The herd was quite dispersed, and had a lot of youngsters with them. Any herd with youngsters should always be treated with great care.
“The guide stopped a distance away from them, at approximately 40 meters. The elephant cow gave the first warning to stay away. She was not the last one to cross the road and therefore wanted to make sure that the herd was safe from any potential danger – in this case, the vehicle. She then gave a second warning by charging towards the side of the vehicle, the most vulnerable part of the car. At this point, the guide did the correct thing by raising his voice at her. Also note that he was still parked in the road. This means that he could easily have moved off along the road had he respected the clear body language and multiple warnings from the elephant.
“The elephant then moved away before turning again and warning them again for the third time. The guide then did the right thing (which he should have done earlier) by starting his vehicle and moving backwards. The elephant came closer again – for the fourth time. Again, the guide did the right thing by standing his ground, using the engine noise to his advantage. The elephant adhered to the response and actually moved off.
“The elephant is then seen turning to see if the threat was moving off. This is where the guide goes wrong. He goes off-road and actually charges the elephant with his vehicle. The elephant had had enough, and was ready to move on and gives a fifth warning to stay away from her herd by shaking her head.
“At this point it seems as if the guide had enough of the situation and actually charged the elephant seriously. At this point, they were far off-road and driving over bushes – a situation not in his favour. The elephant warned them again for the sixth time and the guide should have moved off. There was a stump between them that could potentially be seen as a barrier by the elephant. The guide didn’t use this to his advantage.
“The guide then pursues the elephant again, despite being asked by his guests if this was the right thing to do. Then, he starts backing off – again, the right thing to do. He moved further back and so did the elephant.
Then the elephant turns again and charges towards the vehicle. The guide screams and then charges the elephant back. This is where he does completely the wrong thing. He follows the elephant when she was moving away. She stops again and warns him again to stay back. He pursues her yet again. She warns him again to move off. That’s when she was sure that the rest of the herd was at a safe distance away from the vehicle.
In my opinion, this situation could have been avoided in the early stages of the sighting. The elephant warned them numerous times to move off. The guide should have stayed on the road and should have left that sighting. He did the right thing by moving the front of the vehicle (engine) between the elephant and his guests as the side of the car is the most vulnerable part of it. But by pursuing the elephant time and again, he actually provoked her even more and I believe that this is why she repeatedly charged the vehicle. I am so glad that no one was hurt, but the negative effect left on the guests will be long lasting and the antagonistic impression left in the elephant’s mind as to the threat posed by vehicles/man flies in the face of our guiding ethos. Do no harm. Be respectful. We are passive observers and this is their space.”
2. Safety of our guests
Coupled with a respect for the environment is the safety of our guests. Both are fundamental and non-negotiable within our operation at all times. This guide’s behaviour put a full vehicle of people at risk, and the consequences could have been disastrous. We are deeply apologetic to every person on that vehicle, and will be contacting each independently to express such, as they should never have been put in this situation nor lead to believe that it was appropriate behaviour.
3. Our guiding ethos
MORE subscribes to a firm code of conduct when it comes to our field guides. The responsibility they hold in terms of safety, and imparting the right experience to people who have travelled a long way to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience is something we do not take lightly.
While we do appreciate that there is always a margin for reasonable human error and that we all make mistakes, we do believe that in this instance the situation should have been handled in an entirely different manner.
Sincerely, Andy Paterson & Robert More, Head of Operations & Owner, MORE