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Safari ranger is crushed to death by sexually charged bull elephant at South African game lodge

One of South Africa’s top safari rangers has been crushed to death by a sexually charged bull elephant after it broke into a game park lodge.

Mark Lautenbach, an expert guide and professional wildlife photographer, had tried to move the angry elephant from the tourist area at Leopard Rock Lodge.

But the hormonal six-tonne elephant charged the 33-year-old ranger, from Cape Town, who is understood to have been trampled repeatedly, suffering ‘extensive injuries’. 

The elephant was in full ‘musth’, which is when males have up to ten times as much testosterone as normal raging through their bodies.


Mr Lautenbach’s distraught partner, the manager of the game lodge and a fellow guide, is said to be ‘inconsolable’.

Member of the Executive Council for Environment and Agricultural Development Desbo Mohono said that Mr Lautenbach was one of the most respected game rangers in South Africa.

She said: ‘His death by an elephant is a great loss to the South African wildlife sector as Mark was a highly committed and highly trained ranger with years of experience.

‘We pray that his family may find peace and comfort at this time of bereavement’.

Expert tracker and bird expert Mr Lautenbach was manager and senior guide at Leopard Rock Lodge in the 70,000 hectare Madikwe Game Reserve near the Kruger National Park.

Leopard Rock is made up of five game lodges overlooking a waterhole and the banks of the Murera River and is home to the Big 5 of elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and rhino.

A local expert, who asked not to be named, said: ‘When a bull elephant is in musth it becomes extremely dangerous and is sending out messages to the females he is ready to mate.

‘It is also sending out a powerful message to all the rival males that he is not in the mood to be messed with.

This hormonal change can last several weeks or even several months.

‘This elephant was an older bull and very big and had broken down a fence at Leopard Rock and had got into the lodging areas and was potentially a very big danger to all.

‘Mark is an expert and has had many encounters with bull elephants but something went terribly wrong here and the staff say nothing could be done once the elephant had him.

‘He was one of the top five game rangers in South Africa and his services as a professional wildlife photographer were highly sought after and his loss in our community is huge.

A decision was made to put the rogue elephant.as it was feared that it may kill again.

MEC Mohono said details of the funeral and memorial service for the game ranger were yet to be confirmed. 

His friend Kgomotso Letsholo said on Facebook: ‘Mark, may the great Lord heal our hearts at Leopard Rock, we have lost a brother, a humble soul, a man always there to give a helping hand’.

Elephant expert Dr Michelle Henley of Save the Elephants said: ‘You have to be doubly cautious when you come across a bull elephant in musth for they are far more aggressive.

‘Their testosterone levels are highly elevated and the first thing to be aware of is the swelling of a gland just behind the eye which for a bull in musth can swell to the size of a soccer ball.

‘The elephant has a way of walking, a stand-tall display, and you will see it swaggering down the road with urine gushing out which is a tell-tale sign he is in full musth and you cannot approach.

’10 to 1 are the odds it will not get off the road if you are on it and you have to give way’ she said.

In 2014 a horrific video emerged of a British science teacher Sarah Brooks, now 34, and her fiancé Jans de Klerk, now 36, who were attacked in the Kruger National Park by a bull elephant in musth.

They had been following the elephant at a waterhole during a romantic safari when it suddenly turned on them and attacked their Volkswagen and smashed it 40 metres up the road with its tusks.

It rolled the car at least three times and rammed it repeatedly with its tusks and the shocking video footage of the out-of-control elephant skewering the car made news headlines around the world.

A tusk went through Ms Brooks’ thigh and she suffered life threatening injuries and had to be airlifted by helicopter to hospital where she spent four days in a critical condition before making a recovery.