Beware of a bull elephant in musth

Baby African elephant ( Loxodonta africana africana), Tuli Block, Botswana

Baby African elephant ( Loxodonta africana africana), Tuli Block, Botswana

Published Jan 6, 2014


Nelspruit - Stay away from an elephant bull in musth. That’s the warning from elephant expert Dr Michelle Henley of Save the Elephants, who has advised tourists to heed the telltale signs of the periodic condition affecting male elephants.

“You have to be doubly cautious when you see an elephant in musth,” Henley explains.

“They are far more aggressive because their testosterone levels are very elevated.”

She was commenting after an elephant bull gored Sarah Brooks, a UK-based teacher on Tuesday, while attacking the car she was travelling in with companion Jans De Klerk, a South African now based in the UK.

The elephant was euthanised.

“The first thing to be aware of is to look for temporal gland swelling just behind the eye, which exudes a fluid. For a bull in full musth, this can swell to the size of soccer ball. The bull also dribbles urine. They have a way of walking, a stand-tall display.

“When you see a bull swaggering down the road with urine gushing, it’s a telltale sign he is in full musth.

“You can’t approach it as you would another elephant because 10 to one it will not get off the road. You have to give way…“

Brooks and De Klerk had been pursuing and filming the elephant at a waterhole near Pretoriuskop when it suddenly turned and attacked their vehicle, rolling it three times, and flinging it 40m.

One of its tusks pierced the back of Brooks’s thigh. She was airlifted to the Medi-Clinic in Nelspruit where she is in a stable condition.

De Klerk, a graduate of the Pro Arte school in Alphen Park, Pretoria, was not harmed.

There has been outrage at the decision to euthanise the animal, with Abhijeet Kulkarn writing on SANParks’s Facebook page: “People should not be allowed to chase wild animals in their cars to get that perfect shot or video. The poor elephant was punished with (the) death penalty, what of the idiotic tourists?”

Another, Zelle Deazelle, posted: “How sad and unnecessary that you chose to kill an elephant in musth that attacked a car trailing him too closely near a water hole. The poor elephant naturally reacted to close and persistent human intrusion. You didn’t euthanise him, you killed him in cold blood. Shame on you!”

But Ike Phaahla, a spokesman for SANParks, described the outcry as ignorant.

“This kind of thing does not happen regularly, but once it happens, lives are at risk.

“An animal that has attacked humans can do so again.

“People don’t familiarise themselves with animal behaviour.

“We always have to remember this is the animal’s area and they have no concept of car or a tourist.”

Saturday Star

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