By Mike Behr

One of the last things the Parker family did while packing up in Knysna and heading off on safari was write a note containing their contact details.

"For all practical purposes we will be disappearing off the face of the earth from March 20th with no clear contact details or email probably until mid-June."

At around 10.45am last Saturday, Kelvin Parker stood alone in the Zimbabwean bush with the crumpled bodies of his wife and daughter, who had been trampled to death by an elephant.

Earlier that Saturday morning Parker, 54, his wife Veronica, 47 and daughter, Charlotte, 10, drove from their overnight safari camp, The Hide, to Kennedy 2 water hole in the southern part of Hwange National Park in north west Zimbabwe.

When their guide, Andy Privella, spotted an elephant coming out of the trees on the far side of the water hole he suggested they set out on foot to get a closer look.

"They took a circular walk and stopped at an ant hill where they sat and watched the elephant making its way past them towards the water,' explained Gavin Rennie, the marketing manager of The Hide safari camp, who spent last week helping Kelvin Parker repatriate his family's bodies back to the Britain.

"They were about 100m from the elephant when it turned and started walking to towards them. At that stage the guide saw the elephant was in musth and started to retreat."

Elephants are at their most unpredictable and dangerous when in musth, which is a term used to describe a sexually active elephant.

"As they were backing out, the elephant must have picked up their movement and just kept on coming and then charged," said Rennie.

"The first thing our guides do in that situation is to shout at the elephant, which is usually enough to stop it. But when that didn't work Andy fired a warning shot over its head. While he was reloading the elephant knocked him down, he said.

"By this stage the Parkers were running away. But the elephant kept on coming and trampled Charlotte. She was killed instantly."

The elephant then turned on Kelvin Parker, who attempted to flee.

"He ran away in a zig-zag fashion," said Rennie. "Somehow he managed to escape and then watched in horror as the elephant turned back and trampled his wife.

"He was obviously distraught, but managed to make his way back to the game drive vehicle about 200m away and then drive it back to assist our badly injured guide. He was a very brave man." Parker then radioed for help and other vehicles in the area rushed to his assistance.

The incident has shocked friends of the family in South Africa.

"I can't quite comprehend it,' said a stunned Gudrun Cox, the secretary of the Forest Gardens Home Owners' Association in Knysna. "I can't believe it. They were such a close-knit family. I remember Kelvin telling me that he couldn't bear being away from Veronica and Charlotte. That was when she was in George, where Charlotte was at school during the week and he was busy in Knysna 130km away. I don't know how he is going to cope now."

The Parkers relocated from France five years ago and bought a home in Forest Gardens. Later they renovated one of the original 19th century pioneer cottages in Blanco opposite Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate outside George and turned it into a B&B, which they named Bougainvillea Cottage.

This year they decided to return to France for the remainder of their daughter's schooling.

"They really liked South Africa,' said a distraught family friend, Michelle Hall, who is also the preparatory school secretary at George's Glenwood House, where Charlotte was a Grade 5 pupil.

"They loved living here. They'd made good friends here. And Charlotte was very settled at school. But Veronica's love was always France. She spoke fluent French and so did Charlotte. It took them a good few years to make up their minds, but eventually they decided to settle there. They had found a big barn and they were going to renovate it and buy horses for Charlotte and just live in the country."

Before starting their new life in France, the Parkers set off on a two-week safari to Zimbabwe and Namibia. It seemed the perfect way to say goodbye to Africa and to pass the time while they waited for Charlotte's delayed travel documents for France.

They also believed it would ease the transition for Charlotte, who had difficulty cutting ties with South Africa.

The awful irony, said Nadie Bahlmann, Charlotte's teacher, is that the Parkers had originally planned to relocate to France last year.

"They changed their minds this year. I heard the father say one of the reasons for going was that he was looking for a safer future for Charlotte. The other tragic irony is that they were meant to fly straight to France. Then Charlotte said there was some delay with her travel papers, so they had decided to go on one last African safari."

Parker was too distraught to speak about the tragedy and instead passed on the news by email.

"My wife and daughter have been killed in an accident," read a heartbreaking email to his estate agent.

"I will be back in the UK by the week's end, but at present have little interest in the house. If you could just make decisions for me I'll very much appreciate it."

"How do you handle something like this?" said Hall, who was en route to the funeral on Thursday in the UK.

"My heart goes out to Kelvin. He is left on his own. It's very, very sad. I just hope he finds a way of moving on."

Parker flew his family's bodies out of Harare back to the UK on Wednesday.

"Mr Parker was coping well under the circumstances," said Rennie. "He's a very, very brave man."

The national park authorities and Zimbabwean police were investigating the incident. The Hide would also conduct its own inquiry, Rennie added.

"The Hide has suspended walking in the park from its list of activities until further notice," he said.

"We have commenced a full investigation into this incident so that we can piece together a better understanding of the sequence of events."

Any possibility of reckless behaviour or negligence was ruled out by Rennie. "It's a fact that there has been no negligence. It was just a freak accident."

Privella was discharged from a Bulawayo hospital late this week. He has refused to speak to the media.

"He just wants to forget about this and move on," said Rennie.