Fact Check

The Elephant of Surprise

Published Sep 1, 2015

FACT CHECK:   Does a photograph show big game hunter Ian Gibson being killed by an elephant?

Claim:   A photograph shows big game hunter Ian Gibson being killed by an elephant.


WHAT'S TRUE:   Professional hunter Ian Gibson was killed by an elephant bull in April 2015.

WHAT'S FALSE:   The photograph displayed below is unrelated to his death.

Example:   [Collected via Facebook, August 2015]

Origins:   On 29 August 2015, the "Some Amazing Facts" Facebook page shared a photograph of an elephant attacking a car in a post that implied that the picture was related to the death of big game hunter Ian Gibson. The above-displayed picture, however, has nothing to do with the demise of Ian Gibson.

The photograph was taken at Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa in August 2014. According to a story published by the park's web site, an elephant used a passing Volkswagen automobile to relieve an itch:

The incredible images were taken by Armand Grobler, 21, a field guide and lodge manager in Pilanesberg. Grobler said that the animal was most likely in musth (when a male elephant has an excess amount of testosterone), "yet even though it was in this condition, it displayed no signs of aggression or frustration and was in a more playful mood."

Elephants often use logs, small trees or rocks to relieve an itch or get rid of parasites. So why not a car?

Grobler went on to say: "We were unsure of what to do in the situation when the elephant made contact with the car, and when the car was being crushed, we feared for the lives of the driver and passenger but our efforts were very limited as to what we could do.

"The all-round emotion that was within our vehicle, as we watched in horror, was that we were rushed with adrenaline yet terrified and helpless. The two passengers in the car, male and female, both in late 20’s or early 30’s, were not harmed, only badly shaken up. They were both in shock but happy to be alive. The car was not so lucky. From what we could see and hear, all the windows were smashed, the roof was badly dented and the entire top part of the car smashed. All four tyres had been blown and the chassis broken."

Although the images of an elephant-automobile encounter shown here do not depict a deadly attack, it is true that Ian Gibson had a fatal encounter with an elephant. On 15 April 2015, Safari Classics posted a message on the web site African Hunting about Gibson's death:

It is with deep sadness to announce the passing of Chifuti Safaris professional hunter Ian Gibson. Ian was tragically killed by an elephant bull earlier today while guiding and elephant hunt in Chewore North (lower Zambezi Valley).

The details are just starting to emerge as we write this. However it appears that Ian and his client had been on the tracks of an elephant bull for approximately 5 hours when they decided to take a break and allow the client to rest. Feeling he was quite close to the elephant, Ian and his tracker Robert continued to follow the tracks in hopes of getting a look at the ivory as the client stayed with the game scout to rest. Robert indicated the bull was in musk. They eventually caught up to the bull, spotting him at about 50-100 meters. The bull instantly turned and began a full charge. Ian and Robert began shouting in order to stop the charge. At very close range, Ian was able to get off one shot before the bull killed him. The scene was very graphic.

Ian Gibson was a fine man and one of the most experienced professional hunters on the African continent. He will be deeply missed by all…

Last updated:   30 August 2015

Originally published:   30 August 2015

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.