On a sunny morning in January 2018, a group of tourists were on safari in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Sightseers got a treat when a cute baby elephant and its mother popped out from a clearing. But their admiration turned to fear after the majestic beasts began attacking the truck they were in.
Botswana’s Chobe National Park spans an area of around 11,700 square kilometers. It was the first of its kind in the country. And since its inception in 1968, it has become renowned for its vast elephant population. As such, 170,000 tourists head to the spot every year.
However, this hasn’t always been the case. The 19th century saw an unprecedented slaughter of animals in the country, due to poaching by Europeans and locals. Indeed, by 1890 a large amount of the country’s game had been wiped out, and it took almost 80 years for elephant numbers to fully recover.
Over the last five decades, though, the park’s animals have thrived. In fact, the reserve is now known to have the greatest elephant population in the entire world. And with over 50,000 of these large mammals, it’s perhaps not surprising that so many people flock to the park to catch a glimpse.
There are three different recognized types of species; the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant and the Asian elephant. The group that resides in Botswana, however, is the African bush – or Kalahari – elephant, and it is the largest of all three species.
With this in mind, it is perhaps of little surprise that, other than humans, adult African bush elephants generally have no predators. Despite this, poaching, combined with the loss of land, has caused the number of animals to fall. Indeed, not only can these elephants be identified by their sheer size but also by their tusks, and this may prove fatal for the mammals.
The African bush elephant is renowned for having short ivory tusks that are quite brittle, which is believed to be caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. Regardless, the elephants’ tusks have made them a target for poachers. Indeed, ivory is in high demand on the black market, particularly in eastern Asia.
And although hunting African bush elephants has been illegal since 1989, poaching continues. Elephant numbers worldwide have fallen by 62% over the last decade, according to World Elephant Day. It added that around 100 of them are now killed every day by poachers, driven by a three-fold increase in the price of ivory between 2010 and 2014. The animals are now at risk of eventually becoming extinct.
Despite the risks to the elephants, safari tours in the Chobe National Park continue to be immensely popular. Indeed, the reserve offers visitors a number of travel packages that include a guided tour in 4x4s.
And that’s exactly what one particular group of tourists were doing on a sunny morning in January 2018. Indeed, in a video shared on National Geographic Wild’s YouTube channel, a truck full of people can be seen enjoying the beautiful surroundings of the national park. But things soon take a turn for the worse.
At the beginning of the clip, a truck full of tourists can be seen making its way along a dirt path. And as the truck travels along the road, the camera captures the shrubland that conceals the park’s wildlife. But amidst the foliage, flashes of grey peak from behind the leaves.
Soon, the air is filled with the undeniable sound of trumpeting. Although the sounds that elephants make can be intimidating, the truth behind the noise can mean a number of things. One reason elephants trumpet, for instance, is because they are excited; but it can also be because they’re angry.
Whatever the reason, though, witnessing a wild elephant trumpeting first hand is likely to have been a memorable experience for the tourists. However, they were soon in for an even bigger treat. Shortly after the noises begin, the 4×4 stops. The camera then pans around to film a female elephant and her baby crossing the road front of the vehicle.
The adorable calf’s mother ushers the baby across the road and into the trees out of sight. However, another elephant’s trumpeting continues to rumble on in the background. And this is when things soon take a turn. Suddenly, the tourists find themselves at the mercy of one of these majestic beasts.
Scientific director of ElephantVoices Joyce Poole told National Geographic Wild that the elephant heard off-camera in the video may, in fact, be the herd’s protective matriarch. And so, that animal’s trumpeting is a warning; they could feel threatened.
With this in mind, the driver of the truck speeds off into the distance. But the angry elephant does not give up that easy, and it takes after the tourists. The open-sided vehicle bounces along the dirt path trying to evade the angry giant. But it soon catches up to the tourists.
Despite the animal’s apparent aggression, though, Poole explained that the elephant’s posture and acceleration indicated that the charge was unlikely to be serious. But it was still a shock to the holiday makers – especially when the beast rammed the vehicle, forcing it to shudder.
Following this attack, though, the video shows the elephant backing away, and the tourists appear to be fine. However, the animal doesn’t seem to have escape unscathed. In fact, the elephant’s tusks snapped off as it attacked the truck. And this can have dire consequences for the animal.
Although it isn’t unusual for elephants to break a tusk, it can prove detrimental. An injury such as this, for instance, can result in the elephant contracting a fatal infection. What’s more, elephants need their tusks in order to survive. Without them, it is harder for the animal to defend itself or even find food.
Despite the risks posed by damaged tusks, however, Poole told National Geographic Wild that the animal will likely survive because none of its nerves were exposed. But with 55 elephants being killed every day in Africa alone, according to WWF, these are risks that we cannot afford to take if the species is to survive.