Kev Thomas Writes
Ford Ranger Meets Elephant
During late October 2021 I was sent some photos showing a Ford Ranger twin-cab after it was attacked by a bull elephant in Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou (Place of the Elephant) National Park. With the photos was the voice recording by the owner of the vehicle. He explained how sometime after 16:30hrs they decided to take an afternoon drive up to the top of the Chilojo Cliffs, and then eastwards behind the cliff face. Their intention was to enjoy a few sundown drinks in this marvellous wild and remote venue. They were travelling in two vehicles, when suddenly, a bull elephant which was in the company of another four elephant bulls suddenly charged the Ford Ranger.
The narrator of the story explains how he endeavoured to reverse but ended up reversing into a tree. Quite understandable, given that the road is merely two tracks in heavy sand, and he was obviously keeping one eye on the angry elephant drawing ever closer. No doubt too, there was a lot of noisy backseat driving by the passengers. When the elephant bull reached the stationary vehicle, it proceeded to give it a beating, as can be seen from the photos. The passengers inside were extremely lucky to have not been injured or worse. The recording states how at one time the elephant had both its forefeet on the hood. Scary.
Reading about the incident took me back to 1968 when I was a 17-year-old cadet game ranger, stationed in the Gonarezhou, which at the time had yet to be gazetted a National Park. Even back then, all of 53 years ago, the Gonarezhou elephant were considered the most aggressive in Africa. We spent a lot of time in reverse gear whenever we were on patrol. Often too, if an elephant was chasing the Land Rover from behind, my game scouts, who sat in the load bay, would be hanging fully extended over the cab, feet well above the load bay floor, their hands beating the windscreen to urge me to greater speed.
On one occasion, near Chinguli Pools an elephant chased after the Chipinda Field HQ 7-ton truck and broke a tusk after thrusting it through the tailgate. During a heavy thunder and lightening storm an elephant cowherd flattened my patrol tent as they fled in panic through the darkness in the thick riverine bush on the Runde River floodplain. Fortunately my tent was unoccupied as I'd returned to Chipinda Pools. On foot patrols we were always ultra-alert and on regular occasions had to get downwind of elephant herds, in order to stay out of trouble.
The reasons for the elephant truculence were many, although it was in the main from decades of being poached, and general harassment. Not helping any at a later stage, was the cordon sanitaire placed along the border with Mozambique during the Rhodesian Bush War. Numbers of elephant and other large species had to be destroyed after being maimed by anti-personnel mines when trying to cross the cordon.
Fortunately, what happened to the truck seems to have been an isolated incident. The Gonarezhou has become a huge drawcard for tourism, and overall, the elephant population have seemingly become more tolerant and habituated to vehicles, and walking wilderness trails. Perhaps the elephant bull in question just had a thing about a Ford Ranger.