In August 2013 a US Professor was killed by an elephant in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, while on a walking safari. In December 2013, a British tourist was almost killed when their car was turned over by an elephant in South Africa's Kruger National Park. In October 2009, a safari guide working with the BBC was charged at and killed by an elephant, while filming a children's show in southern Tanzania. And in September 2009, a British tourist narrowly escaped with his life when he was charged at by an elephant, upon arrival at his safari camp in Kenya. His leg was gored into quite a mess, but he's expected to make a full recovery. It does beg the question - is going on safari dangerous? And what's with these elephants?
Obviously the answer is, "yes, a safari can be dangerous". You're dealing with wildlife, it's unpredictable, that's part of the thrill of being on safari. If you take basic precautions, follow the guide, park and camp rules you should be fine. In fact tourists getting attacked by wildlife is quite rare, especially compared with the local population who have to live with the dangers every day. Farmers and pastoralists who live close to national parks and wildlife conservation areas are at much higher risk. Women for example, often have no choice but to wash cooking utensils and clothes in rivers where crocodiles and hippos live. And it's the hippo, not the elephant, that is responsible for most of Africa's fatalities by a wild animal.
The African elephant is larger and generally more aggressive than the smaller Asian elephant. There's no playing soccer or polo with an African elephant. And circuses are really out of the question. African Elephants charge when they feel threatened, they'll tend to be more aggressive in areas where there has been a lot of poaching. Elephants never forget. Guides and rangers can read elephants and will generally know whether one is about to charge for real, or whether it is mock charging. I've been mock charged several times and almost died from a heart attack, while my guide has merely chuckled. But in general, when respected, the African elephant will not harm you. It is in fact one of the most gentle and intelligent creatures on earth.
Elephant bull mock charging, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe - © Getty Images/Steve Allen