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The African Big 5 are to be respected

As a respected Safari Operator, I always accompany my guests into nature to view the amazing array of wildlife. I take great care to caution my guests. The animals, and especially the African Big 5 are to be respected without exception. Having said that, I must also admit that with frequent exposure to these animals we can get too comfortable and drop our vigilance.

The past two weeks have seen a few reports of deaths caused by animals in Africa. It is an urgent reminder that the African Big 5 must be respected at all times. When we enter into their territory we must be vigilant to the extreme. We are the “intruder”. Always remember that the African Big 5 are to be respected as they can be a danger to us.

Elephant Attacks Field Guide

On Wednesday 19 August we woke to shocking news. The young highly professional Field Ranger, Sheldon Hooper, had been attacked and killed by an Elephant cow. He was on a routine patrol of the electric fences at the Waterside Lodge on Thornybush Private Game Reserve.

Field Guide Sheldon Hooper giving photographic tips
Sheldon Hooper giving Tara and me photographic tips.

Professional Field Guide

I got to know Sheldon personally when he was the appointed Field Guide for my guests on Safari. His infectious love of nature and his thirst for information that he could share with his guests shone through in everything that he did. Sheldon was a walking encyclopedia of the wilderness where he worked. Sheldon is one of the most careful and committed Field Guides that I have had the pleasure to work with. He always ensured the safety of his guests. More specifically, the safety and comfort of the animals were of paramount importance to him.

Yet Sheldon died as a result of an attack by an Elephant cow. Maybe it was a momentary loss of focus on his part. This could have brought him too close to the breeding herd and into harm’s way. Maybe it was an error of judgment on the part of the Elephant cow. Fearing that Sheldon was about to harm a young calf that triggered the attack. We will never know. It simply highlights the fact that the African Big 5 are to be respected at the highest level.

Elephant Rehabilitation in Botswana by Douglas Groves
Douglas Groves dedicated his life to the rehabilitation of Elephants

Elephant attack in Botswana

Then on Monday 31 August, we learned that Douglas Groves, the owner of Living With Elephants Foundation in Botswana was killed by a wild Elephant while out in the bush of the Okavango Delta. Another person with intricate knowledge of Elephant behaviour that was apparently surprised by a fatal attack from a wild Elephant.

On the flip-side of the coin are those persons in the industry who are “keeping” wild animals for various reasons. Then things go wrong! The African wild animals, and especially the Big 5, ARE and will always remain wild animals. They operate on basic instinct that humans can never fully understand. We may believe that we are able to predict their moods. That has been proved to be incorrect time and again!

White Lionesses in captivity
White Lionesses in captivity

White Lions maul lodge owner

Last week we learned that a Lodge owner in Limpopo Province, Arthur “West” Mathewson, was mauled to death by his two white Lionesses while taking them for a walk. This is an activity that happened a few times a day. Looking at images on their website you can only accept that these Lions were kept more as pets. Why? Why did they attack their keeper?

The official story is that these Lions were kept by Mathewson as part of his conservation efforts in order to educate people about the challenges that Lions face. Ok, but there are images and reviews posted by guests at the lodge walking with these Lions. We can assume, therefore, that these Lions were an economic asset for the lodge. Guests were given the “privilege” of walking with the Lions as part of the package.

Unfortunately, for some reason their basic instincts as a hunter and killer was triggered. Now Mr Mathewson has paid the ultimate price for keeping the Lions in captivity.

Lessons to be learned

There is a lesson here for travelers to the beautiful African Safari Destinations. Do your homework and check the Safari and Tour Operator’s ratings on sites like Trip Adviser. Book your travel with reputable operators that have an excellent track record. Do remember, however, that even the most professional, diligent and careful person may make a critical mistake as we see with the attacks by Elephant referred to here. These incidents invariably happen when there are no guests with them and their vigilance may therefore be at a low level. I know that to be very true. I have had many “close shaves” in terms of traffic accidents. Always when I have been driving on my own, yet I have an impeccable record while driving with my guests on board.

The second important lesson for travelers. Do a little research so you KNOW what real conservation looks like. There are numerous stories advertised by operators about their great conservation activities while they keep Lions (as an example) confined to small cages. This is where people may be given the opportunity to pay for personal interaction with the animal.

Fair Trade Tourism

At Africa Explore Safaris we do not believe that humans have the right to interfere with wild animals. Taking them out of their natural habitat where they live in a balanced ecosystem is wrong. Africa Explore Safaris is a Fair Trade Tourism approved Tour and Safari Operator. We apply the six principles of Fair Trade in all that we do. We definitely do not support any facility where animal petting or personal interaction is done. There are some fully legitimate operations where scientific research is done through breeding programs. Education also takes place at these venues in a manner that benefits the animals. However, there are simply too many grey areas when it comes to organizations that offer you the opportunity to interact with wild animals. Actions that often leads to the exploitation of the animals for economic purposes where only the owners are benefiting.

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