US tourist killed after bull elephant toppled safari vehicle in Zambia

<span>An elephant in Zambia in 2018.</span><span>Photograph: DEA/Getty Images</span>
An elephant in Zambia in 2018.Photograph: DEA/Getty Images

An elderly US tourist was killed and four others hurt when an aggressive bull elephant charged and toppled their safari vehicle during a game drive in Zambia.

The attack at Kafue national park, in which the large pachyderm ran from a wooded area and barreled into the side of the truck, was captured on video and posted to social media by ABC News. It identified the tourist as 79-year-old Gail Mattson of Minnesota.

Keith Vincent, executive director of the safari operator Wilderness, told the network in a statement that the elephant’s charge was unexpected, and the driver had no opportunity to escape.

“Our guides are all extremely well trained and experienced, but sadly in this instance the terrain and vegetation was such that the guide’s route became blocked and he could not move the vehicle out of harm’s way quickly enough,” he said.

“This is a tragic event and we extend our deepest condolences to the family of the guest who died. We are also, naturally, supporting those guests and the guide involved in this distressing incident.”

Wildlife officials and local police say they are investigating Saturday’s incident, which took place in the national park about 220 miles north-west of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. Covering almost 8,700 square miles, Kafue is the country’s oldest and largest national park, and is popular with tourists for its abundance and variety of birds and animals.

Wilderness said four other guests in the vehicle were treated for minor injuries.

Family members of Mattson, who also had a home in Arizona, told Minnesota’s KSTP News that she was “living life” on the game-watching holiday. Photographs of her in a safari truck clutching a flower, taken on the day of her death, accompanied the network’s report.

John Longabauth, a friend from Arizona, told the outlet he would miss her adventurous spirit. “She had told us that this safari was going to be her last big adventure,” he said. “Because her birthday is in the summer, she was going to be 80, she felt like she would start slowing down.”

Zambia’s neighbor Zimbabwe has expressed recent concern at a growing conflict between humans and elephants from a rising elephant population, especially one that is migrating more as the climate crisis disrupts animals’ access to food, water and cover, in Africa and around the world.