Lest you have broken the Kruger National Park’s rules about getting out of your vehicle, it is unlikely that you will encounter dangerous animals on foot without the services of an armed guide or tracker.
The encounters you may have on foot are:
In the rest camp
At a picnic facility or get out point.
The rest of your encounters with wild animals will be from inside your vehicle. These encounters must not be seen as ‘safe’ encounters, or ‘protected’ encounters. Disregard, ignorance or unawareness can lead to serious conclusions. There are many references to visitors who got too close, or who simply were not aware of the danger.
Lion, leopard, spotted-hyena, elephant, rhino, buffalo, honey badger, snakes, bushbuck, baboon and Hippo have all been responsible for serious attacks on humans in the Kruger National Park. All these, ‘contact’, situations were brought on by the humans. No animal’s initial motivation is to go out of its way to attack or confront a human being. Animals will normally shy away from this type of encounter, and are normally not dangerous if you leave them alone. Most animals become dangerous if they are threatened or provoked – or if you are unaware of their presence, and suddenly walk in close proximity to them – perhaps closing off an escape route, or getting between them and a safe habitat, or getting between mother and child.
The rule of thumb is DO NOT RUN! – Stand still, concentrate on maintaining your composure and on hiding your fear. Assess your immediate surroundings – and then slowly walk backwards, and away from the initial contact area. If the animal shows aggression – stand still. In some cases, making an aggressive, arm-waving noise will cause the animal to loose its nerve, in most cases – by slowly removing yourself from its line of vision, or out of its way will get you out of a whole heap of trouble.
In the vehicle
Approaching animals like elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino is the key to a successful encounter. By speeding up to them and then suddenly braking will initiate one of these things:
The animal will run off into the bush. The animal will become nervous and agitated – sometimes aggressive. The animal will react suddenly – and may even hurt itself.
Getting too close
There are a few things to bear in mind when approaching animals in order to observe their normal behaviour. An animal has a flight distance – this distance depends on how they are interpreting the encounter with your vehicle, and most definitely on what happened during their last encounter with a vehicle. The latter is the scary one – because only the animal knows what happened before you arrived on the scene.
Observing animals behaving normally is tragically not what some visitors to the Kruger National Park on intent on seeing. Coke and Beer tins thrown at elephants to get them to ‘face the camera’ – apples and other fruit, car snacks, and meat are thrown at baboons, lions and hyenas to get them to ‘face the camera’ and loud, electronic animal calls are played through 500 watt speakers to see if the animal behaves differently have sadly become more and more common occurrences in the Kruger National Park – I’ve even seen people getting out of their vehicles and chasing impalas, wildebeest or zebras to witness the reaction.
Showing respect at sightings
We all know that Kruger’s wildlife have lived with vehicles for 100 years, and that to an extent, the animals have learnt to see the vehicle as a harmless ensemble – a bit of a bad smell – but generally harmless, and relegated to its own tracks. Forty vehicles, on the other hand, all jostling for a viewing position around an animal will cause the animal unnecessary stress. Please be respectful. Besides the stress you cause by this obsessive behaviour – lion and leopard and cheetah will simply stop being seen near vehicle tracks.
‘Don’t feed the animals’ is the most disregarded signboard in the Kruger. In fact, of all the rules in the Kruger National Park, this is the one that is the most important to observe. You may as well shoot the animal yourself.
Feeding of animals is delivering a death sentence in many instances. Potentially dangerous animals become even more dangerous when they start believing that man is a food provider – and small animals like birds, squirrels and antelope are literally killed by the ‘difficult to digest’ and completely unnatural diet of processed food and drink.