Jannie Leonard elephant attack victim survivor
Jannie Leonard lying in the ambulance on his way to Letaba hospital shortly after his ordeal with the elephant.

“I have never been hit that hard. It was like a truck hitting you at 60 kilometres per hour.” This was how Jannie Leonard (40) from Phalaborwa described being hit by a charging elephant bull on Monday evening on a lonely dusty road outside of town.

It was the 20th of November and Jannie and a friend decided to go for a drive in his bakkie along the Waterboard road which passes by the popular lookout point on Foskor mine property. This is not out of the ordinary for residents of this mining town who frequent the route often.

“We were on our way back at about 21:00 when we stopped near the lookout point turn off to relieve ourselves. My friend stood to the left of me, and I was stood a little further ahead in front of him,” Jannie recalled. “Next moment an elephant charged straight at me from the darkness. It was incredible how quick that massive body moved.”

Not the actual bull that charged Leonard. Image for reference.

The large bull hit Jannie with such force that it knocked him straight into the ground. He said he never even knew what hit him and it happened so fast that he only realized he was in trouble when the animal kneeled with its knees on top of his chest.

“When I saw the bull charging, I stood dead still in one spot as we were taught that it might just be a mock charge. Next thing I knew I was hit with a force that I can only compare to that of a truck hitting you head-on at around 60 kilometres an hour. I was smashed into the ground and the bull tried to work me with its knees as it sat on top of me.”

Whilst lying on the ground with the behemoth above him, Jannie was able to squeeze himself into the triangular gap between the animal’s chest and chin. This made it impossible for the animal to shift its entire weight onto him and crush his body.

“There is literally nothing you can do in that situation but try and get yourself away from the animal. I wiggled and manoeuvred myself the whole time to ensure that I stayed in that little gap between his chin and his chest so that he couldn’t throw his entire weight onto me. Eventually the bull picked me up and threw me into the air away from him. This was actually my saving grace because it allowed me to escape. I sprinted as fast as I could towards the bakkie where I jumped onto the back and my friend sped away.”

It was only once he was on the back of the vehicle that his adrenaline rush subsided, and he knew he was seriously hurt. His friend sped to Maroelamed medical centre where the doctors assessed the damage and stabilized him so that an ambulance could transport him to Letaba hospital.

Jannie Leonard in a hospital bed shortly after the elephant attack incident.

“I could feel that my body was broken and that I definitely had some internal damage. The doctors confirmed that I had a bruised lung, fractured ribs and a badly broken left leg. In fact my left leg needed surgery as it was crushed under the elephant’s weight.”

Jannie spent four days in the hospital before x-rays were taken again to ensure that there are no further injuries and determine his progress. He was released from hospital on Monday this week and will return to Letaba on the 14th of December for surgery to his left leg.

He is currently being taken care of by family members in Phalaborwa.

“It’s not true what they say about near death experiences. You don’t have time to watch your life flash before you. The only thing you’re thinking is f**k I’m going to die.”