Akagera National Park, Rwanda (AFP) Dec 9, 2005
Half-submerged in a lake in eastern Rwanda stands Mutware, a rogue elephant believed to be the only single animal ever to have a prompted a security warning from the US government.
Wallowing serenely in the muddy waters of Lake Ihema in the central African country's Akagera National Park, the placid demeanor of the 37-year-old bull belies his reputation as an aggressive beast bent on destruction.
Yet, it is Mutware, "the chief", who has wrecked at least three vehicles in recent months, terrorizing if not injuring their occupants and drawing the attention of worried US diplomats who complained to the Rwandan government about his behavior.
Earlier this year, Washington's embassy in Kigali -- a mission normally more concerned with threats posed by rebel groups in Africa's volatile Great Lakes region -- took the unusual step of issuing a formal alert for Mutware.
"Recently, this elephant has displayed more aggressive behavior towards visitors to the point that actual charging and physical contact with vehicles has occurred," it said in an April warning that remains in force.
"The embassy has notified the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks and expressed our concerns about these incidents," it said, advising US citizens "to exercise extra caution" in Akagera.
Park rangers defend the elephant, saying that at least two of the groups whose cars were attacked refused advice to travel with guides who could have steered them clear of the jumbo.
They say Mutware's bouts of aggression have more to do with the elephant's loneliness and inability to attract a mate than any innate hatred for humans or the strange motorized vehicles in which they ride.
"It's only in the mating season that he gets aggressive and that's because he's solitary and has no female," says ranger James Muhizi.
"The first sign he's feeling aggressive is that he flaps his ears," he added. "The second is that he sends clouds of dust up into the air and the third sign is when he stamps his foot on the ground.
"When that happens you'd better get out of the area," Muhizi told AFP.