JOHANNESBURG – A safari guide rushed on foot toward an elephant at a South African game park while fellow guides whoop and laugh at the foolhardy stunt, which cost the ranger his job when a video of the incident was posted online.
The episode at Kruger National Park was a startling reversal of the occasional tales of elephants charging tourists in vehicles that got too close, and a variation of the "man bites dog" saying, originally a journalistic reference to how the unusual constitutes news.
In the video, the elephant initially stands its ground, ears flapping, as the guide races toward it, at one point falling into the high grass just meters away from the animal.
"Run! Run at him!" shouts one of the onlookers. The elephant eventually retreats and the guide saunters back to his vehicle as his friends, one apparently holding a beer bottle, cheer and guffaw.
Singita, a safari lodge company based in South Africa, said Monday that it investigated the "disturbing" video that showed off-duty field guides in a vehicle and one of its employees on foot as he confronted the elephant, which it described as extremely agitated by the encounter.
"We cannot stress enough that the behavior displayed in this video completely contradicts Singita's guiding ethos and values toward conservation and wildlife preservation," said the company, which operates luxury lodges and camps in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
"The guide involved in the confrontation is no longer employed by Singita and further disciplinary procedures are in progress with regard to others involved," it said in a statement.
In statement posted Sunday on Facebook, a man identified as Brian Thomas Masters said he was the guide filmed in the confrontation with the elephant and expressed remorse for what he described as "harmful and dangerous" behavior.
"This has already cost me my reputation and job and has undone all the work I have done in the fields of ground hornbill and elephant research over the last 13 years," Masters wrote. "The fact that for the months leading up to and after this incident many nights were spent sitting out in the bush after a full day's work trying to do our part in slowing this terrible tide of rhino poaching gets very quickly forgotten."
Masters asked readers to vent their anger at him, not the company that had employed him, and asked for forgiveness.
"Look carefully at yourself and ask if there was anything you have done in the past that, had it been caught on camera, could have had negative consequences," he wrote.