What to do when you encounter desert elephants

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Compiled Sanet van Zijl | Photos Jaco Bekker

In light of recent incidents of human-wildlife conflict in the country the organisation Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA) has shared some tips for those that will be visiting the Ugab River area, that live in the area or that may encounter the desert elephants.

V isitors and locals have been requested to refrain from travelling with citrus fruits in their vehicles. According to EHRA the elephants can smell these fruits from far away.

Because these elephants have been fed by humans before, they will move towards vehicles in search of food – which can be very dangerous for passengers. If the elephants come too close to the vehicle, passengers should clap their hands and talk to the animals in a calm tone of voice.

Remain calm and talk in a normal tone of voice, the elephants will then realise that there are humans in the vehicle. They will move along at this point. Never scream or shout at the elephants, this may cause the animals to become panicked and they may then become aggressive. Always remain inside your vehicle when you come across these giants.

When you spot elephants from a distance remain downwind and try to keep a distance of at least 100 meters between yourself and the animals. As soon as the elephants display nervous behaviour or start shaking their heads drive away and leave them be. Cellphones, car radios and other electronics that can make noise should be switched off.

It is extremely important that you do not follow the elephants when they start moving away from you. Do not move around at night, whether driving or walking. Never feed the elephants and never throw stones at the animals.

The Desert Elephants of Damaraland

It is important to remember that your behaviour towards elephants will determine their behaviour towards other people they will encounter. If you agitate the elephants they will be agitated the next time they come across a group of tourists or locals.

This places these people in harm’s way unnecessarily. Tourists must remember that local communities in this area reside in traditional clay huts and that there are schools in the area.

Locals are requested to make fires outside their huts at night, so that the elephants know that there are humans in the area. They are also advised to avoid keeping water and grass inside their huts, because the elephants can smell it. Rather keep these supplies outside. Some farmers in the area also add goat droppings to their fires, as this masks the smell of the water and grass.

Locals are encouraged furthermore to sleep over at friends’ houses when they visit them late in the afternoon/ evening, as this is safer than walking home in the dark. Elephants move very quietly and you will not see or hear them in the dark. If you do bump into an elephant at night it could have dire consequences.

Elephants are peaceful animals, but if people behave aggressively towards them and scare them they will also react defensively and become aggressive.

EHRA is hosting a  free educational seminar for residents of the Ugab area. It will take place on 17 March. Phone (064) 402 501 for more information.

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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