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What to do if attacked by a wild animal

First-time visitor in the wilderness areas of South Africa are understandably apprehensive about animal attacks. Good safaris usually get you close to powerful and dangerous animals, but large animals rarely cause serious injury. However, they do occur.

Wild animal attacks are rarer than you think. Animals usually retreat and only attack when threatened. If food is scarce and you (sadly) fit the bill, attacks can occur in desperation. Also be very aware of your surrounding if the wild animal has young.

You may be wondering how to handle a confrontational encounter in Africa, home to one of the most dangerous creatures. Elephants and hippos are more deadly than lions and leopards.

Some tips for staying safe when you’re in the wild:

  • Make a lot of noise
  • Step on objects, not over them. (This applies to rocks and logs)
  • Wear high, thick shoes that protect your ankles
  • Wear insect repellent
  • Don’t run (which will most probable be the most difficult thing to do when facing a wild predator)

Let’s look at some animals you might encounter when staying in the wild:


Hippos are considered one of the most dangerous in Africa and are known to kill with a single bite. Statistically they pose the biggest threat to humans. When encountering a hippo allow it plenty of space to pass, whether you’re on foot or travelling in a boat. Beat the side of your boat to alert Hippos of your presence as they don’t like to be startled. Oxpeckers lives on Hippos so listen to their call which will be an indication that hippos are near. If a Hippo is definitely going to charge you it is a good idea to climb in a tree or getting to higher ground as a hippo can unfortunately, outrun you.


The vast majority of encounters with snakes are usually non-venomous, but South Africa does have a number of venomous ones and you do not want to encounter one of them, especially a black mamba. Although a snake cannot hear anything, they do hear vibrations so when walking in the bush, makes a much noise as possible to deter them away. Freeze immediately if you spot a snake close to you and back away very slowly. It should be your last resort to kill it, but if you have no choice use a large and heavy object and aim swiftly for the head.


Encountering elephants usually gets the adrenaline pumping in any case, but if they do charge, most of the time their charges are “mock” charges. Keep a close watch on the elephant’s ears. If they are relaxed, it is a mock charge but if they are pinned flat you better get out of the way.

If you are on foot be as quiet as possible and listen for warnings like trumpeting, which is usually an indication of a charge. If you must run, remember a charging elephant can run up to 35–40kph, so if you zig-zag, you might be able to confuse it.  Obviously elephants can’t climb so it might be a good idea to find a sturdy tree that is high enough for you to get out of the elephant’s reach. Just remember that the elephant could push the tree over or rip it out of the ground.


A Rhino’s eyesight is relatively poor which gives you an advantage should they decide to charge. With rhino’s you have two options – run or distract. If you are among trees, make sure there is one between you and the rhino or climb the tree as high as possible. A rhino is unlikely to follow you into a thick scrub bush so dive into one and don’t think of the scratches.

If none of this is possible, stand and face the animal head on. Shout and scream as this might veer the rhino away from you. Rhinos tend to run in the same direction once they charge, so run in the opposite direction, as chances are they will not turn around and come back for another attack.


Crocodile attacked are usually fatal and there is very little you can do except maybe gouging its eyes out. Tries to avoid an encounter with a crocodile by not swimming in crocodile infested rivers. Test the waters out by throwing some stones into them to draw their attention as this should allow you to spot what’s lurking beneath the surface. Crocodiles often hide in narrow waterways before pounce. Never lose your composure or make a scene if your boat tips over. If you find yourself in water, swim back to shore using breaststroke underwater as fast as you can.


Contrary to popular belief, leopards are least likely to attack a human, it will only attack if it feels threatened. Never approach a leopard too closely. If you are confronted by a leopard make loud noises, shouting and waving your arms. Never run away! This kick in a chase instinct in the leopard. Rather back away slowly.


Lions perceive humans as more of a threat when they are walking in the bush. To attempt to run when encountering lions is futile since lions are use to a chase and can run much faster than a human. Never approach any wild cat if they have cubs.

Always remember that when you are in the bush, you are in the animal’s territory. Be extremely careful of wild animals that seem tame. Many wild animal attacks do not come from the big five or other predators but the small unexpected, cute ones.

Smaller animals might carry rabies which is a fatal disease like bats, jackal, foxes, skunks, mongooses, meerkats and monkeys. You might be less aware and careful around them but being attacked by them can be just as fatal.

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