Last month we began discussing the etiquette of a visit to the game reserve, and noted that one should really consider other folks when joining a group of cars at an exciting sighting. We noted that one should keep a reasonable distance from animals to avoid “spooking” them and losing a wonderful opportunity to watch them.
The same scenario can play when elephants are seen near the road. In this case there are definite rules for visitors. The minimum distance away from elephants one should stop to watch them is 30 metres. If the elephant is a bull in musth (breeding condition) it is far more readily agitated and the minimum distance increases considerably to between 75 and 100 metres. These distances have been tried and tested as the outer edge of an elephant’s personal space, and therefore the limit of its patience. Go closer and you encroach on the animal and it will become uneasy, even agitated. Sadly we have had a few incidents with elephants where folks have simply barged in too close and the elephant has dished out a rather severe lesson in game reserve etiquette. So be considerate of the animal and the other folks watching it. An elephant in musth is recognisable by profuse streaming from the temporal glands, dribbling urine and/or wet hind legs, and a strong musky odour different from the usual elephant smell.
Avoid blocking the line of retreat for other vehicles. This can become quite important if an elephant becomes agitated. If the cars in front cannot retreat then the safety of the passengers is suddenly at risk. The whole scenario can change within minutes from a pleasant game viewing experience to one fraught with danger. Always try to assess the direction in which the elephants are moving and never block their route, or come between a mother and her calf, or block a possible escape route of the herd.
Fore-warned is fore-armed, they say. Our advice is that you read up on the behaviour of elephants, rhinos and even the placid-looking giraffe and buffalo before you venture into a game reserve. Being able to “read” an animal’s behaviour makes the interaction that much more satisfying.To save our members some trouble we have put together a short article on the Dos and Don’ts of game viewing from a car which appears in this edition of the newsletter. Generally we cannot fault the good behaviour of the animals – they signal their intentions very clearly. So if you respect their space, they will respect yours.
And watch those rhinos! Although many of these wonderful animals are quite used to traffic on tourist roads and will happily graze with metres of your car, they remain wild. Give them plenty of space and they will treat you to hours of pleasant watching. A black rhino will often make a mock charge if it is upset – but if a white rhino charges you there are no ifs of buts. Get moving in the opposite direction. Fast. The best tactic is,of course, not to provoke a charge in the first place. If you see a rhino is getting agitated, simply move off and it will calm down.