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Family survives after bull elephant batters and flips car at Lake St Lucia

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2022/01/16 Tony Carnie

A family’s outing to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal turned into a nightmare when a bull elephant charged, battered and then overturned their vehicle at the weekend.

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An Mtunzini family escaped death or serious injury after their vehicle was pounded and flipped by a bull elephant on a tourist road leading to the beach at Cape Vidal on Sunday morning.

Officials from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority did not respond to media queries on Sunday night, but reliable sources have confirmed that the incident happened near Catalina Bay on the eastern shore of Lake St Lucia.

The occupants – believed to be a husband, wife and their two children, aged eight and 10, from the coastal town of Mtunzini – were reported to be severely traumatised, but not seriously hurt.

It is unclear why the elephant attacked the car, but it is understood that an investigation will be launched by park officials.

Dramatic video footage taken by the occupants of another vehicle show the elephant shoving a white Ford 4x4 bakkie after it had flipped the vehicle over onto its roof. Images circulated on social media show that the windscreen was cracked, with dents to both sides of the vehicle.

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Daily Maverick was not able to contact the couple on Sunday night, but images show that at least four bicycles had been loaded on the back of the vehicle.

There are more than 100 elephants in various herds in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park that have been reintroduced into the World Heritage Site over the past two decades.

The majority of the elephants were sourced from the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, orphans whose parents were culled in the Kruger National Park – along with some more recent introductions directly from Kruger.

There have since been a number of incidents of conflict, including at least one fatal incident, in 2005 when Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife general assistant Zelani Ntuli (50) was gored in the chest when an elephant charged a vehicle near Charters Creek.

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Ntuli and fellow staff were returning to a field camp in a three-ton truck from Hell’s Gate when they came across a breeding herd of 26 elephants drinking at a reservoir at about 7pm. 

They stopped their vehicle and switched off the lights. After waiting for a while, the team tried to drive forward, but were stopped by the herd. It is believed the elephants may have become disorientated by the switching on and off of the lights. 

One elephant then rammed the truck, pushing it backwards off the road against a tree. The windscreen was shattered and the cab roof lifted off its mounting and Ntuli, a mother of two, was fatally gored.

In a separate video clip circulated in 2016, a party of tourists recorded a close escape after encountering an elephant at close quarters on a tourist road – highlighting the dangers of visitors approaching elephants too closely, particularly when testosterone-charged bulls are in musth (a condition of heightened aggression and unpredictable behaviour in elephant bulls). DM

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