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Be Cognizant of Sensationalist Reporting-Did you Hear the One About the Elephant?

A Follow Up on the Facts

Just  last week the BBC news reported an incident in Livingstone, Zambia where an

elephant killed a person. While a very tragic, unusual, and frightening incident, the story is not followed up with the facts, leaving an impression that a safari might not be safe or that elephants are inherently dangerous to humans.  In fact, the report is untrue in its first sensationalist sentence. As BBC reported “A US tourist from New Mexico was killed by an elephant, after it attacked her vehicle while parked during a safari drive in Zambia on Wednesday.

The animal pulled {Name withheld out of respect}, out of the vehicle and trampled her, officials said. {Name} was with a group that had stopped near the Maramba Cultural Bridge in Livingstone due to traffic from an elephant herd when one of the animals attacked, a police official told the Zambian national broadcaster ZNBC.”


On Monday the following letter was released by the Zambian Tourism Association to the tourism trade. These words are an excerpt of their investigation along with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. (You can read the full report in the here:  )      


“We feel it is necessary to correct some of the wildly inaccurate reporting that has been in the press since the incident. Below are the actual facts, as confirmed by eyewitnesses and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management.”


“A group of tourists were returning from an activity near Victoria Falls, in 2 self-drive vehicles. Upon seeing the large breeding herd of elephants that often frequent the elephant corridor within Mosi oa Tunya National Park at the Maramba River bridge, they parked their vehicles, Six of the nine tourists exited the vehicles, and walked through the bush toward the elephants to take photographs. Following an initial mock charge, an elephant followed through with the attack, and unfortunately one tourist was killed.

The false media reports that the elephants attacked the tourists in the vehicle are misleading and frankly irresponsible. No tourism guides were involved and the sad reality is that the guest died as a result of breach of National Park Regulations.” New signage will clearly state the area "is a wildlife corridor, and that people should under no circumstances leave their vehicles". The press release concludes with: “We stress that should tourists wish to approach wildlife, they should do so only with a qualified and licensed tour operator.”

Amen to that!

    (photo from a day we spent to over 150 elephants during a visit with Save The Elephants researchers)

The Washington Post piled on the sensationalism with the quote: “…when one of the elephants ambushed the car.”  More likely than an ambush, the elephant was protecting its young or others in the herd.  As Chase LaDue, a conservation scientist at the Oklahoma City Zoo notes later in the same article, “females, which can give birth any time of year, are very protective of their young…. youngsters can be playful and mischievous, and may wander off. If a safari vehicle or caravan wedges itself between the baby and the mom or herd, a perilous situation could arise.” 


When viewing wildlife, it is wise to do so with an experienced guide who knows animal behavior and is respectful that humans are visitors to their environment.

All of the staff at Latitude have had many elephant experiences: in safari vehicles, on-foot (only with experienced guides), and at those magical times when these beautiful creatures come to visit the safari camps. As in the below photo from a Latitude group trip to Botswana, elephants are respectful and docile when they visit humans' property. (Pictured here, grabbing a drink from the pool), but may become quite protective when humans intrude or cause them stress on their land.

Be safe, be smart, be respectful, follow the rules and do not intrude on the animals' natural habitat; and truly realize that irresponsible reporting to grab headlines is a disservice not only to our industry but to all of you who wish to expereince the wonder of a safari in Africa.

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