Adults African elephants tip the scales at somewhere between 3.5 and 6 tonnes, and all that heftiness is propped on top of four, somewhat stumpy legs creating the impression that the languid animals would be incapable of anything more than a leisurely traipse through the bushveld. In truth, elephants can reach speeds of around 24kph (15mph) and, although there is some debate about whether elephants actually run or just walk very briskly, that top speed outpaces the average human, confirming that you probably don't want to be on foot if an elephant goes on the trot.

It's a lesson that was quickly learnt by two tourists last month who nearly found themselves on the pointy end of an elephant matriarch in South Africa's Kruger National Park. 

The pair had sauntered some distance from their parked vehicle to take a closer look at a statue of Paul Kruger – president of the South African Republic at the time the area was proclaimed a national reserve – when a herd of elephants unexpectedly emerged and made a beeline for the monument. "The matriarch was extremely aware of the people out their car, and she seemed quite unhappy with two tourists walking right along their path," Andre Schwab, the tourist who captured the hair-raising clip, explained to Latest Sightings.

Realising their predicament, the duo made a hasty retreat and managed to take a wide enough berth around the pachyderms to avoid a more dramatic outcome. "It was the women's lucky day and they made it to safety by the skin of their teeth," Schwab recalls.

Park rules outline that guests are not allowed to alight from their vehicles while in the reserve, however, this incident took place at the Paul Kruger entrance/exit gate where it is permissible to explore on foot (within a reasonable distance and assuming it's safe to do so, of course). The western side of Kruger is fringed with private reserves, many of which do not have fences separating them from the iconic national park. So, although the gate itself (which can be seen behind the elephant at the start of the clip) marks the official point at which guests enter and exit the park, wild animals can still freely roam on either side of it, hence the importance of staying extra vigilant when on foot in this area.

"The sighting ended with everyone laughing at how quickly this could have gone south," says Schwab. When elephants go on the offensive it's certainly no laughing matter. Earlier this year, a delivery driver making his way through Klaserie Private Game Reserve was lucky to escape unscathed when an elephant charged his vehicle crumpling the hood as though it were made of paper. And back in 2014, a similar scenario played out, only this time the vehicle was flipped and rolled leaving at least one of the occupants with injuries worthy of a trip to the hospital.

So what should you do when faced with a wild animal? "Stay calm and move out of the way," says Isaac Phaahla, general manager of communication and marketing at the Kruger Park. Animals "will not intentionally go after humans but seek to move away to safety." Phaahla also stresses the importance of staying vigilant, respecting the bush and adhering to park rules.

Top header image: Brittany H., Flickr