The river bank separating Malalane from the Kruger National Park has long been the haunt of one particular elephant. Often seen taking food from residents and tourists alike, he became familiar to many and in due course even gained a name, becoming known as Harry the Elephant.
Although feeding wild animals is strictly illegal in the Park and can earn transgressors a hefty fine, feeding Harry seemed harmless enough. Those doing so weren’t in the Park itself after all? In reality, there did seem to be a legal grey area when the matter was discussed, and the matter was seemingly left to rest.
Kruger National Park staff has over time regularly warned people no resist feeding Harry as it is a well-known fact that animals can become dependent on such feeding and even become quite demanding and dangerous once they start associating humans with a food source. A vervet monkey (blouaap) becoming aggressive when people do not want to feed it, is one thing. A disgruntled elephant takes things to a whole new level.
Harry, becoming ever more comfortable among humans, started entering Fish Eagle Bend in Malalane late last year. The drought then at its peak had made those lush green gardens along the lower streets seem that more attractive and the rickety gate near Kobwa Hall was no impediment.
There ensued several nervous altercations between him and community members. These initially resulted in a quick exit back into the park. Soon enough though Harry the Elephant became wise enough to recognise that the balloons used to chase him caused no damage. As a result, he started turning on those trying to drive him back to safety. Finally, after much mediated haggling between the Municipality and Mpumalanga Veterinary Services, these parties came to an agreement regarding re-electrification of the section of fence near Kobwa Hall. This put and end to the sunset encounters between those walking their dogs and a hungry elephant, and things apparently returned to normal. Both KNP management and the community were hugely relieved, as up to that point euthanasia had seemed the only option.
The reprieve was short-lived. During November 2017 Harry visited a construction site in the Kruger National Park. The encounter with humans did not go well and Park management were left with no choice other than ending Harry’s life. So ended an era.
The lessons are age-old and grim. Feeding animals removes that natural separation that all game parks depend on as humans become regarded as a source of easy food. This puts visitors to these parks in mortal danger and makes being a Park ranger an even more dangerous job.
Feeding a wild animal of any kind can be a death sentence, and not always to the animal.
(To you idiots who fed Harry, we know who you are. Hope you are happy and I am sorely tempted to name and shame you. – Ed).