Storm erupts over dead elephant

SKUKUZA – The carcass of an elephant lying in a pool of its own blood, was found outside Satara Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park early on Tuesday morning.

Some of its intestines were visible, but otherwise there were no signs of predators feasting on it.

The carcass was removed by park officials that hoisted it onto a truck and took into the veld for an autopsy. “This was a difficult task, since the ground was very wet due to the heavy thunderstorm earlier,” says Reynold Thakuli, general manager for media, public relations and stakeholder relations of SANParks.

Yesterday he confirmed that a team of veterinarians could only deduce that the animal had been struck by lightning, since no other possible causes for its death could be found.

While several news sites reassured readers that the elephant had died due to an act of nature, the guesswork on social media ranged from a muti killing to ivory poachers who had been disturbed before being able to remove the tusks, to being the work of predators.

The latter was questioned by commentators who assumed predators would feast on the intestines first, while others alleged that predators do not feed on animals struck by lightning. This phenomenon could not be confirmed, but a local vet conceded that predators might be deterred by a “typical chemical smell” after a lightning strike.

First reports that its genitals had been removed triggered suspicions about a muti killing, while holes that allegedly would confirm a lightning strike were apparently found when vets examined the carcass.

This led to more speculation on a SANParks Facebook group, with a doubting Thomas suggesting that the elephant must have been “lying with its belly up in the air” when struck. He was quickly informed that “lightning enters at the top and heads earthward through the body, possibly splitting along the way, causing multiple exit wounds and burns”.

Lowvelder received information that the elephant had been shot by officials since it was causing problems at the camp. This allegation was denied by Thakuli.

• Elephants killed by lightning are apparently not uncommon. A few websites, including www.roadsideamerica.com, tell that a well-known American circus elephant called Pitt was killed in August 1943 in Montana when a sudden bolt of lightning knocked her down.  It also mentions Norma Jean, a 6 500-pound elephant of the Clark and Walters Circus struck and killed in 1972, with her trainer “knocked 30 feet by the blast”.
In 2008 an elephant owned by the Guruvayur Devaswom temple died after it was struck by lightning in Thrissur
(www.thehindu.com) and in May last year, the Express Tribune reported that four elephants were killed by lightning in northern Sri Lanka.

  AUTHOR
Mariana Balt
Environmental Journalist

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