February 2013, Tanzania/Kenya area The day started like so many others for the tour operator (name withheld to protect his identity). He was driving his clients on a jeep safari through a lovely isolated area in the highlands near a river. They spotted a herd of elephants with young ones across the river. Suddenly there was a commotion; the elephants all started to trumpet and run. The matriarch stopped and started doing mock charges toward a bush in the riverbed. Then they noticed about 15 tribesmen running and throwing spears at the elephants.
For a moment, the operator and the clients were all in shock. But then the operator started to yell and shout at them until they ran away. He made it back to their start point where he contacted the game warden.
I spoke with the Tour Operator (T.O.) about his surprising experience.
How long have you been running your tour operation?
T.O. -For six years
You are in an isolated area, without many other game drivers around. Why did you choose this location?
T.O. – I wanted a challenge and to try to promote the “real” African experience.
Have you ever run into a poaching attempt before?
T.O. – No.
I know you are not allowed to carry guns in the park, so what can you do to stay safe?
T.O. – Yes, only licensed rangers can carry weapons. It seems with the new Game Warden, they are taking it more seriously and are adding more anti-poaching units.
Who do you call if there is an issue?
T.O. – The Park officials.
Poachers are getting so brazen. They don’t seem to care if it is night or day or if there are people around. Are you worried this will happen again?
T.O. – Yes we are. All we can do is have more APUs (anti poaching units) set around the game drive routes.
I believe you mentioned rhino are gone in that area. Are there many elephant left?
T.O. – Yes that’s right. Elephants are still here, but declining.
Do you think the government is doing enough to combat poaching?
T.O. – I feel now there is more publicity.
What was the reaction of your clients on the drive?
T.O. – They were speechless.
Do you now tell your clients this could occur? And if it does happen again, what will you do?
T.O. – I do talk to them about it so they are aware. I would again try my best to make noise.
What would you like to say to the poachers?
T.O. – Many things!!! Stop killing innocent creatures is one (to be polite).
Do you have any advice on what people can do to help?
T.O. – STOP buying ivory and other materials. Be aware and report any incidents you encounter. Support wildlife!