A friend driving us in the ‘Tarangire-Manyara’ Corridor where he owns a camp!
Do humans really know when or why elephants attack?
The answer is no. I have heard many an expert claim that he can read an elephant’s mind but I know, deep inside his heart is thudding, when the elephant charges. The truth is that no matter who or where, whether one is guiding in a vehicle or on foot, whether one has spent three weeks in the bush or three decades, the answer remains the same, No. Like human’s and every other animal in the world, elephants too, both in the distant and near past, have experiences that mould them, that effect their behavior and form their character. That is why when an elephant is subjected to a stimulus, it reacts in a manner unique to that individual. At the risk of repetition, it must be stated that every elephant has a character of its own and no human will ever know what that is. The one crucial aspect that trained guides take into consideration, when driving in the bush, is an exit plan. It’s inbuilt in our system to always have an exit plan, especially in elephant and buffalo country.
It’s true that the longer you spend with elephants the more you can guess what their reaction will be to a particular stimulus. With experience you tend to predict their reaction and take relevant action in time. Head up, head down, tail up, tail down, low rumble or shrill scream are all clues of the animal trying to tell us something. Subconsciously, guides put all these symptoms together and then take calculated action. Action which is always a calculated guess for one never knows when the animal will behave in an unexpected manner. Unexpected as it does not fit in with the normal mould of elephant behaviour. Once the guide is committed to his decision, he hopes that the percentages are with him. More often than not, they are. When I train our guides, I always insist that all animals be given respectful distance and that every guide have an exit plan when things go wrong and the animal does something different. The ways of the bush are quite amazingly unpredictable, they beat the odds in the long run and when the animal does something extra ordinary, the untrained guide often finds himself praying hard.
Add to this the need to please the guest, a photo of a charging a elephant dust flying or even an unarmed expert trying to impress the camera for social media, taking on a charging elephant on foot and we have a situation where more and more animals are subjected to uncalled for harassment and unnecassary risks are taken. We at Royal Migration Camp frown on such practices and believe that our imprint in the wilds must be minimal and the disturbance to wildlife as negligible as possible.
Between Ally, Shaaz, Sangeeta & I, and our guides we have a joint experience of over a hundred and fifty years handling ourselves in the wilderness. We often discuss these experiences and always end our training with two very clear unanimoius agreements; (a) Always respect the animal (b) Never take wildlife for granted.