Elephant Tramples American Tourist to Death

D A R   E S   S A L A A M, Tanzania, Jan. 11, 2001 -- An American woman was trampled to death by an elephant in a Tanzanian national park after it became enraged by the clicking sounds of her camera, officials said today.

Natalie Waldinger, 24, of Huntington, N.Y., died Sunday in Ruaha National Park in central Tanzania, during a break in her tour as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer teacher in this East African nation.

Waldinger and an unidentified American woman left their car to photograph the wild animal, said Lota Melamari, chief of the Tanzania National Parks Authority. The pair was traveling with a driver — who was not an official guide.

The sound of metallic clicks from their cameras enraged the elephant, which charged the two, Melamari told The Associated Press.

Beware of Unpredictable Behavior

Waldinger's friend scrambled to safety only to watch as the elephant trampled the woman to death. Waldinger, who had been in the country since 1999, died in the park. Her friend was badly shaken, but uninjured, Melamari said.

"It is a tragic incident, and we extend condolences to members of her family," Tourism Minister Zakia Meghji said. "People seem to forget that animals in our national parks are wild and are not in a zoo. Contact with tourists … has not tamed these animals at all and their behavior remains unpredictable."

Waldinger's body was flown to the United States on Wednesday after a memorial service at the residence of the American ambassador to Tanzania.

"Natalie was an exemplary volunteer, a teacher well loved by her students and a person committed to humanitarian work," Gale Metcalf, U.S. Peace Corps director for Tanzania, said.

A funeral service will be held Tuesday in Huntington.

The deadly attack is the first of its kind in the Ruaha park, which has a large number of elephants, wildlife officials said.

"We have sent a team to investigate why the incident happened and how similar tragedies could be prevented in the future," Melamari said.