Updated: Aug 23, 2019
There has been a spate of Social Media posts involving close encounters with animal kind.
We've all seen them - the usual posts involves an angry elephant obliterating a vehicle full of keen safari goers. We should all take these as a stern lesson in respecting wild animals when we're out in the bush.
Literally as I was sitting down today to write this blog post an email came through from Latest Sightings about an incident in Sabi Sands. Fortunately the ranger in charge (excuse the pun) was well equipped & quick thinking enough to avoid serious injuries to his guests or the rhino but it demonstrates that when an animal is getting antsy, you need to give it space.
We've experienced our fair share of close calls in the past but we are always sure to provide plenty of space between the animal & ourselves as well as to carefully observe behaviour. Like humans, animals have tells that give you a clue as to what they're thinking & how they may react to a situation. Unlike humans, they can't speak so you have to learn to understand "back off buddy!" from gestures alone.
Our closest encounter was brought to us by a cheeky little rhino in Kruger National Park. The little guy was with his mom & she was super chilled, just laying in the sun on a bridge. Junior, on the other hand, had another plan in mind & was watching us intensely. We were parked on a downhill dirt road just before the bridge about 100m away. Mom got up to get some breakfast & we started the vehicle so that we could get out of her way as we assumed that she was going to come up the road to move to the veld on either side. As both mom & son began to walk from one side of the bridge to the next, junior lost all his senses & charged for us. Despite his young age & clear inexperience in scaring off trespassers, we could see he was not in any mood to back away so we made a hasty retreat up the dirt road in reverse, almost stalling in the process. When junior's mom gave him a bit of a talking to, he trotted away like the cat that stole the cream while hubby & I sat there white faced & in awe of the situation we had just avoided. Had junior's mom not stepped in, we would have been toast & so would he going up against such a large vehicle.
are you picking up what I'm putting down?
So how do you know if you're too close? Animals will give you signals & it does vary between species but if you've ever had a cat or dog in your household, you'll see it right away. Large mammals like elephants & rhinos usually give you a dirty look before anything else kicks off. Prolonged irritation starts to show in quick up-and-down head movements, flapping of ears, stomping or scraping of feet. By the time the charge happens it's usually because you've missed a load of other social queues & the animal has now reached it's limit. Big cats are usually the easiest to read & will flick their tails in a feisty manner or show teeth in a half arsed hiss in your direction. Be very aware of cats close to your vehicle with open windows - older cats who struggle to hunt may view you as a quick & easy meal & try their luck.
A major thing to remember is to always give the vehicle in front of you space to manoeuvre & ensure you have the same behind you. If there had been a vehicle up our bumper that day in Kruger we would not have been able to move & things would've ended very badly. We see if so often in parks - people pile up one behind the other, so close that a mouse couldn't squeeze through. This is a disaster waiting to happen and the only thing that makes a car getting chucked around by an elephant any worse is a 20-car pile up right behind it all.
Aside from being aware of the animal's behaviour, also be aware of the season. Breeding time creates all sorts of untoward behaviour in animals, both male & female. It's here & also when newborns are around that you're most at risk of being viewed as an unwanted guest.
the rule of thumb
We are visitors to the habitats of wild animals when we enter reserves & national parks. If you take the time to read the literature provided upon entry, that will be abundantly clear to you. While some people may feel a bit entitled since they have paid entrance fees & are of the opinion that they can enjoy the area the way they see fit, this is not the way it is done. When someone comes to your home, you expect them to respect your space & behave in a manner that doesn't offend you. When we visit the animals in their home, we should award them that same level of respect.
Chantelle loves going on safari & spends as much time as is allowed inside the park whenever she's lucky enough to go. When she witnesses people misbehaving she practices her secret super power on them. Her friends know what this power is... & so do her enemies.
SANParks week is running from 8 - 15 September 2019 - during this week you can gain free entrance into most of the national parks under the SANParks umbrella. This is a massive saving, especially for families & we urge you to take advantage but book in advance. We can assist with a variety of accommodation options from camping to glamping & chalets to fancy game lodges. But if you snooze you lose so put in your leave & #gooutsideandplay