The Safari Experts
animal attacks

Animal attacks in Africa


Many people travelling to Africa for the first time are understandably nervous about being so close to potentially dangerous wild animals. However serious injury caused by large animals is relatively rare, we hear of perhaps one or two incidents each year, some of which prove fatal.

We usually hear of around one fatal animal attack every two years. We therefore estimate that the chances of being involved in such an incident are around 1 in 80,000.

Please refer to our section on safety for information on other risks when travelling in Africa.

The most dangerous large animals are elephants and hippos, more rarely lions and leopards.

The safari world has developed an informal code of conduct which serves to protect both the animals and the guests. Usually when you arrive at a lodge where this type of risk exists, the hosts will give you a full briefing. It is essential that you understand these rules and stick to them at any time. If you do, then you should have very little to worry about.

On walking safari ...

The highest risks are encountered when out on walking safari. It is absolutely essential that you only consider undertaking this activity in the company of suitably competent staff. Walking guides who are resident at a particular lodge should have adequate training. Tribal people who live in the immediate environment can also usually be trusted, notably Maasai since most animals are familiar with them and keep a wide birth and Bushmen whose knowledge of the environment is unsurpassed.

On the other hand park rangers in some areas cannot be relied upon, usually the camp will provide their own guide in addition to a park ranger for this very reason. Whether or not your guide will carry a gun varies from area to area, the policy usually being the result of many years experience.

It is absolutely essential that whilst out on walking safari you follow the instructions of your guide to the letter, from start to finish. The general rule of thumb is never run as this may trigger attack instincts in predators and can cause animals that would otherwise have mock-charged to follow through.

In camp...

It is also possible, although rare, to have dangerous encounters with animals whilst in camp. In locations where the risk is considered to be higher, it is usual for guests to only move around the camp in the company of a guide or guard. It is important that you stick to the camp rules. Whenever you come out of a building or tent, pause and take a good look, listen and smell in order to detect any animal presence ... there is nothing more dangerous than running outside without looking.

Incidents ...

04 November 2010 : Zimbabwean eaten by lions while having a shower : refer BBC News

In 2010 one of our customers was attacked by an elephant on leaving their tent in a camp in Botswana. Her partner was ahead of her and had seen the elephant, but was unable to warn her to stay inside because he was out in the open and exposed. By the time she came out, a few seconds later, the elephant was too close and it attacked. Although the injuries sustained were serious enough for her to be airlifted to Johannesburg, they were thankfully not life-threatening.

06 January 2010 : Elephant kills US tourists in Kenya : refer BBC News

29 September 2009 : Elephant attack man played dead : refer BBC News

03 January 2008 : Lions devour man at SA game lodges : refer BBC News

27 March 2007 : Elephant kills British tourists : refer BBC News

In 2005 there was an incident at a safari camp in Tanzania where a small child was taken off the verandah of a tent by a leopard. By the time she was rescued it was too late, the leopard had killed her. This is incredibly rare behaviour on the part of the leopard. We heard unconfirmed reports that the cat was very old and even that the camp had been feeding it, which would go some way to providing an explanation. It is essential that parents of all children operate a policy of leopard hour whilst on safari ... in which the kids must be constantly accompanied by an adult from an hour before sunset to an hour after sunrise. We do not use this camp.

In 2004 a horrific incident took place when we were staying at a camp in Botswana, where one of the staff was mauled to death by lions whilst lighting the path lanterns. Three lionesses were shot at the time. Investigations found that there was some very unusual pride displacement activity going on at the time, possibly caused by the presence of a pumped waterhole in an otherwise dry area. The camp has been raised onto board-walks to avoid any repeat.

Disclaimer : Please note that all of the information on this page and elsewhere in the health section of our website is provided for information only. We suggest that you always refer to a health professional when seeking medical advice.
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