Game reserves are home to hundreds of thousands of animals. Many of these animals are categorised as dangerous game, and sensible precautions to minimize the risk of human species conflict include:
- Remaining in a secure motor vehicle or adequately fenced precincts while in the vicinity of large mammals
- Rigidly observing nature reserve instructions
- Never approaching animals that appear sick, malnourished, displaying aggressive behaviour traits or female wild animals with young
- Demanding adequately trained and experienced game rangers when embarking on walking trails or vehicle safaris
- Never feed the animals
Any behaviour that might be construed as antagonistic (see video below) which could provoke an animal to attack should be avoided at all costs, especially if there’s young in the area, females are gestating, or a bull (male) elephant is in musth.
Furthermore, it’s considered good practice to consult with an experienced game ranger, conservationist, or wildlife tour guide before taking images of vulnerable or endangered fauna, especially unpredictable mega-fauna.
The video above is believed to have been recorded back in 1975 close to the border of Angola, Southern Africa, which later featured in a shock horror film called Traces of Death. Traces of Death is a collection of archive film and borrowed stock footage, notorious for its pointless exploitative content.
The brief clip depicts a film photographer on vacation with his family at a game reserve, however, for reasons unknown he decided to leave the safe confines of the families car to photograph a nearby pride of lions.
Unfortunately, the photographer was viciously mauled to death in front of his horrified family by three lionesses. Today this video is televised in several ranger schools to educate wardens, game rangers, and the public about the dangers of national parks and game reserves.
While human species conflict is considered rare within game reserves, a minority of tourists continue to violate the rules whereby such incidents do occur. The image below was snapped in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand, depicting an Asian bull elephant trashing a tourists car.
The tourists ventured too close to the endangered Asian elephant provoking the animal to attack. Fortunately, these tourists survived to tell the tale. Sadly, On the 15th January 2021, in the same park, Coconuts Bangkok reported that a tourist had been killed by an Asian bull elephant in musth that trampled the tourists campsite.
Mega-fauna attract photographic tourists from all over the world. However, caution must always be demonstrated when photographing said animals up-close. After scrutinizing hundreds of images and videos with expert animal behaviourists, veterinarians and zoologists. Concern was raised with regards to the animal’s behaviour, and the close proximity of the photographer/videographer.
Whilst some of these incidents have gone viral causing alarm and concern, a minority of tourists continue to engage in close proximity wildlife photography. On the 12th May 2021, NBC reported yet another incident of a grizzly bear charging a photographic tourist. The tourist seen in the image below could have been mauled or even killed due to her own stupidity.
Until recently, grizzly bear attacks were considered rare however, fatalities are on the increase. On the 1st May, 2021, a woman was found dead after being mauled by a grizzly bear. The Durango resident was believed to have gone walking with her two dogs earlier that Friday, according to information provided to the La Plata County Sheriff’s office by her boyfriend. The victim had last communicated with her boyfriend late in the morning.
While this report is not photography or game reserve related it goes without saying that extreme caution must always be demonstrated in regions where there’s an abundance of dangerous wildlife and mega-fauna.
In recent years, there’s also been a slight increase of elephant and tourist related conflicts within African and Asian game reserves which has lead to some parks banning tourists, and tour guides that violate park rules.
The video below from 2017 demonstrates how hostile and hot-tempered a bull elephant can become when tourists venture too close. This bull was in musth which soon became irritable and aggressive charging the tourist’s at speed. Therefore maintaining a safe distance is always advised for both tourists and animals’ safety.
Despite warnings and advice concerning the dangers posed in African game reserves and national parks, many tourists continue to overlook this advice and flout the rules. I and animal behaviourists scrutinised numerous online videos showing photographic tourists outside of their cars being chased by mega-fauna.
In addition, we viewed numerous videos and images of which tourists were not giving animals enough space during their photography sessions. Such behaviour is considered to be reckless, and totally irresponsible by wildlife experts.
The image below is one of many alarming examples that regularly occurs during the tourism season in the Kruger National Park. Crowding an elephant can provoke alarm and distress leading to human species conflict, however, these tourists didn’t seem too bothered despite the bull showing obvious signs of stress.
In recent years, game reserves and national parks on the African continent have reported an increase of visiting tourists. However, reports of wildlife harassment, and other misbehaviour from visitors has escalated too.
On the 16th May 2021, experts and I examined videos and stories depicting human species conflict concerning rhinoceros, hippopotamus, great white sharks, baboons, giraffes and leopards of which it was agreed this behaviour was thoughtless and insouciant. Furthermore, when tourists are attacked by mammals, such stories can be exceptionally newsworthy with potentially deleterious effects on tourism.
The flouting of park rules stems from disbelief among visitors that they will get hurt, said Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk. “I can’t tell you how many times I have to talk to people and say, ‘Step back. There’s a dangerous animal,’ and they look at me like I have three heads,” he said.
Wildlife harassment isn’t just confined to game reserves or national parks. On the 11th May 2018, the Metro reported a family being chased by cheetahs at a safari park. The video below demonstrates just how quickly things can go wrong when we humans don’t follow the rules.
All photographers seen in the video should have been in the safe confines of their vehicles. Furthermore, they’re incredibly lucky to have not been injured. While cheetahs may come across as charismatic and charming, they should never be underestimated as seen in the video above.
Regardless of whether you’re using a telephoto lens in the safety of your vehicle, or even a 4WD Bakkie with an armed ranger; every wild and/or captive animal must be treated with respect, compassion, and dignity.
In addition to using common-sense when operating in African or Asian game reserves, one must always be vigilant. Hence why you’re not permitted to vacate your vehicle, or roll down your windows where dangerous wildlife are roaming.
“Alas, there’s always that one individual that believes the rules don’t apply to them”
On the 10th November 2019, Fstoppers reported a story regarding yet another elephant and photographer related incident in India’s West Bengal State. Unfortunately, the photographer stood no chance, and was crushed to death by a four tonne Asiatic elephant.
Fstopper, Jack Alexander reported:
“In what is the eighth trampling death in India’s West Bengal state in a period of just 10 days, a photographer has tragically been killed.
It’s reported that the man, a keen photographer, had ventured too close to the elephants, enraging them and ultimately leading to his untimely death.
Asish Shit, 35, was from Howrah, Calcutta, and had approached a wild herd of 12 elephants, which he discovered when exploring forests around the Atadihi area of Sankrail with a friend. He ended up getting too close, which caused the commotion.”
Arup Mukherjee, the divisional forest officer in charge, said of the incident:
“Shit went to take photographs of some elephants that were roaming in the local forest. He went very close to the elephant that trampled him. He was taken to the Bhangagarh hospital where doctors declared him dead on arrival.”Source: Fstoppers
Elephants are usually peaceful animals that form close family ties, and care for each other. They work as a team to protect the young if there is a threat. Females may, however, be aggressive when young calves are present and bulls can be exceptionally aggressive during musth. All elephants may become aggressive when sick, injured or harassed.
On the 21st August 2014, SANParks reported yet another human and elephant conflict in the Sable Dam near Phalaborwa Gate of the Kruger National Park of which an elephant overturned a vehicle driven by local tourists. A local doctor rushed to the scene of the accident to attend to tourists immediately, fortunately, only minor injuries were reported.
The elephant was busy drinking water from the dam on the opposite side of where the vehicle was, when it suddenly walked through the water towards one of the tourists’ car; which was on the other side. The end result is pictured below.
However, unbeknownst to the film crew that were following the chase, they had unintentionally strayed too close to the angry leopard. Furthermore, the team had no armed ranger, and were travelling in a 4WD open-roof Bakkie which had no windows or protection.
Within minutes the leopard soon turned its attention towards the film crew of which it tried to attack the documentary team. Fortunately, cameraman Richard Jones thwarted the attack. However, it could have easily ended in tragedy.
Contrary to popular perception, game reserves are not home to just dangerous mega-fauna. Game reserves host all sorts of menacing animals which could take you by surprise. On the 13th December 2011, the Daily Mail reported that a British student training to be a safari guide in South Africa died less than an hour after being bitten by a black mamba snake.
Nathan Layton, 28, did not realise he had been bitten while helping to capture the reptile at the college where he and his girlfriend were studying. But within an hour, he complained of blurred vision, collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Game reserves are large areas of land set aside as a “protected area” for wildlife. One of the earliest examples of a game reserve is the Kruger National Park. Most game reserves are located in Africa that cover hundreds of thousands of miles, serving as a conservation tool for wildlife.
The first tourist to be attacked by an animal in the Kruger National Park occurred in the 1930’s involving a sable antelope. The photographer apparently got out of his car near Pretoriuskop to take a photograph of a sable behind a tree. When he was about six metres from the object of his photographic intentions, it suddenly charged at him, impaling his thigh with one of its metre-long horns.
Fortunately, this tourist lived to tell the tale, unfortunately, some tourists don’t. The story concerning Jacques van der Sandt, 29, who was dragged under the water by a crocodile should be enough to remind the public of the dangers regarding wildlife in game reserves.
Despite all the media coverage concerning wildlife attacks and harassment it would appear a minority of tourists continue to ignore these warnings. In addition, wildlife selfie crazes seem to be the in-thing too which has resulted in many animals suffering, and sadly dying as a direct result of tourist harassment.
On the 1st September 2018, The Islander reported the death of a moose that had been harassed by baying photographic tourists. DIY Photography stated in a news report on the 4th September 2018:
“This weekend, a moose drowned in Vermont because of people who were taking photos of it. The crowd scared the animal into the water, and it drowned from exhaustion, according to the reports.
According to The Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department, the moose had most likely already swum a few miles to cross Lake Champlain from New York state.
Sheriff Ray Allen says that the animal made its way out of the water and it was exhausted. When the moose tried to rest, people crowded it and scared it back into the water, where it drowned from exhaustion.
The Islander writes that a moose chooses between two options when it feels endangered: it will either leave the area to avoid the threat or become aggressive to defend itself. This moose decided to leave and hide from the danger that he saw in the crowd of people with cameras – but it pushed the poor animal into death.
A witness told The Independent that the area where the moose got out of the water was near a bicycle path. It was “busy during the tourist season, with numerous boats and vehicles nearby.” Sheriff Ray Allen says that, while it’s amazing to see these creatures, “they are wild animals and should be left alone/viewed from a distance.”
He adds that, if you see a large animal like this, you should report it to Vermont Fish and Game immediately. Only this way the tragic situations like this can be avoided, according to Allen.”Source: DIY Photography
“The craze for wildlife photography has increased, but unfortunately, there is no understanding of ecology or animal behaviour amongst most photographers.
We have attempted to create an awareness that the quest for the perfect shot may be detrimental for the species and how repeated off-roading on a wild landscape harms the ecosystem.”Source: Ramki Sreenivasan, co-founders of wildlife portal Conservation India
Photographic tourists that engage in close proximity wildlife photography often overlook how detrimental their behaviour can be when things do go wrong.
For example, had the elephant (seen in the images above) been in musth or was spooked by the reckless photographers. Rangers would have been left with no other option but to shoot the five tonne beast had it charged at the tourists.
Alas, rangers cannot babysit every tourist hence why all African game reserves issue indemnity contracts to all visitors before they embark on their safari. An indemnity agreement is a contract that ‘holds a business or company harmless’ for any burden, loss, or damage. An indemnity agreement also ensures proper compensation is available for such loss or damage.
New York Times journalist, Ariel Levy once said: “Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptom of narcissism.” And with every narcissist comes problems, danger, and in some cases death.
On the 14th January 2014, the Daily Mail reported a terrifying moment a teacher was gored by an elephant through her door as it flipped her car and flung it 40 yards in the Kruger National Park.
Sarah Brooks, 30, and her fiancé were filming the animal from their car as it drank at a waterhole when it turned and went for them. It flipped their vehicle and shunted it around 130ft down a track into thick bushland.
The elephant’s tusk ripped through Miss Brooks’ upper thigh during the ordeal at the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The attack was filmed by tourists travelling in a car behind. The teacher, from Spalding in Lincolnshire, was airlifted to hospital where she required several days of treatment.
The tourists were witnessed edging closer and closer to the African bull elephant ignoring all advice given at the gate, and disregarding their indemnity contract. Park officials later shot the elephant which was in musth, a periodic condition in males that makes them aggressive when their testosterone levels rise by up to 60 times.
It was also claimed the elephant had an injury which is believed to have increased its aggressiveness. Nevertheless, the incident sparked outrage among animal activists, and members of the public when rangers shot the elephant dead.
Chang Ming Chuang, 66, was tracking the animal at a wildlife resort on Lake Naivasha, 90km (56 miles) north-west of the capital, Nairobi. A second tourist, also from Taiwan, was injured too. Wildlife officials later shot dead the hippo.
On the 3rd July 2015, the Citizen reported that a leopard had been euthanised after attacking a Kruger park tour operator (see video below).
In a statement, SANParks said the guide, Curtis Plumb, 38, was with about eight tourists on his vehicle and watching the leopard about two metres from it on Thursday at about 1pm.
The animal cunningly disappeared; it probably went around the guide’s side while the group was still searching for it. Suddenly, the leopard leapt and grabbed his arm, trying to jump into the vehicle, Lowvelder reported.
On the 2nd April 2017, Kruger Park Videos uploaded a rather chilling video depicting photographic tourists hanging out of their car windows at a lion sighting in the Kruger National. Fortunately, no one was injured, and rangers didn’t need to euthanise an endangered species.
With the correct camera equipment and patience, wild animals in game reserves can be snapped quite effortlessly without winding down your windows. Clean your windows before entering game reserves, and take decent car window cleaner to wash bugs off and to reduce shine and glare.
Furthermore, practice your aim and style like photographer Chad Barry writes for PetaPixel. Barry uses a Canon 7D Mark II with a 1.6x crop sensor, the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, and a Canon 1.4x Extender. This combo gives Barry the equivalent of a ~900mm f/8 lens.
While human species conflict is considered uncommon in game reserves, when such incidents do occur, the press and media have a field day. Negative press can tarnish the reputation of game reserves, many of which rely on tourism as a source of profit to protect threatened game reserve animals.
Furthermore, the vast majority of incidents that involve direct human species conflict have been provoked by photographic tourists, while reserves themselves were to blame for a very small number of incidents.
Game reserves provide animals with food, shelter and security. Moreover, many of these animals are threatened ranging from lions, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, rhino, elephant, blue crane, vultures and wild dogs to name a handful of species. Therefore its critically important that all tourists follow game park rules during their safari.
Close proximity wildlife tourism has also been blamed for anthropogenic disturbance and psychological stress in Indian tigers and African cheetahs too. If the animals are subjected to prolonged stress, their survival and reproduction will be at risk.
Elevated stress hormones can also negatively impact big cat growth and immunity. It is important for tourist vehicles entering the parks to be regulated and human disturbances should be greatly minimized to conserve the existence of these already endangered animals.
J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer
My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscape, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.