Is Being a Safari Guide Dangerous?

Bongwe Game Drives

I have had a few run-ins over the years. Close encounters with buffalo and elephant and bumped into a couple lions too. I once had to step out from behind a tree to show a leopard I was there before he chose the tree to climb up. I Had a couple of very close shaves and got lucky a couple of times. I once had to jump off the edge of the Luangwa River down about 4 m of very uncomfortable riverbank to get away from an elephant.  She missed me by a metre, and I lost most of the skin on my arms and legs, but I was very lucky!

I have been stuck in my tent for hours desperate to pee whilst a hippo grazed the grass from around my tent. I have even had my tent pushed over, with me in it, by an elephant – I think he just wanted to eat what was under my tent. I have been knocked out of a boat by a hippo, bumped into a lion on a walking safari and had a very close shave with a spitting cobra or two. An elephant nearly took of my face with his trunk – a client got a photo of that one! The trunk came so close to my face, I felt the air whoosh past my nose.

Now that I am thinking about it, there have been a lot of incidents.

I have always been careful and never one for too much risk. Certainly, most, if not all my close encounters have been when I am not with clients. With clients I adhere to protocol and never take chances. On my own, however, I have no one to worry about but myself so I can be a bit more adventurous.

Once, I saved two clients from being trampled by an elephant. I can’t even remember their names or what they look like, but the incident itself will remain with me for life.

I was in my late 20’s and was in camp, off duty, having a sundowner gin and tonic at the bar with the other staff.  Suddenly we heard a terrified scream followed by an elephant’s piercing trumpet of anger. We all ran in the direction of the sound. I reacted first and arrived a good 50 metres before the rest of the staff. As I ran towards the scene, I saw the unfortunate couple; they had been surprised by a breeding herd of elephants as they walked from their room. The jumbos had walked up the riverbank at the same time and everyone met on the path.

I think the lady’s scream is what set off the elephant, she probably got just as much of a fright as the people did. Unfortunately, the people were in close proximity to her family. The elephant’s reaction to this was probably that of instant wrath! The couple had found a large Leadwood tree to hide behind, and the trunk of the tree was the only thing stopping them from being squashed. Running around it in short circles they somehow managed to dodge the enraged elephant.

My run took me straight at the elephant as it chased the couple around the tree; I had my cap in my hand and was bellowing, jumping, waving and being as big and scary as I could possibly be. Arms and legs shooting out in all angles while hurling insults and swearing abuse at the elephant. It’s obviously all bluff on my part. Luckily for me, however, she bought it!  She turned her attention away from the guests and focused on me.

Then she gave me one short charge!

With my momentum carrying me forward I had no choice but to keep heading for her as she headed for me. I aggressively threw my cap at her with obvious violent intent. And then she stopped. She stopped so close to me that all I could see was her giant, furious head. I honestly thought my time was up right there and then.  I think the only reason I did not die in the next few seconds was the timely arrival of the other staff who came running in after me.

The collective mob, all running and shouting, became too overwhelming for the elephant. So instead of finishing me off, she backed away noisily to re-join the rest of her herd.

Needless to say, we all had a couple more gin and tonics after that.

My lasting memory is that elephant’s furious face and the force of her personality as she filled my entire vision.

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