This safari incredible. You’ve seen lions, cheetahs, and other amazing wildlife. Your friends are going to love these photos. Suddenly, the ground starts shaking. The soft booming sound becomes much louder. A massive elephant emerges from the treeline, trumpeting.
It looks angry, and it’s going to attack. How are you going to survive this time?
You’re probably familiar with these gentle giants called elephants. There are only two kinds of elephants still on Earth these days, the African and Asian elephants. Asian elephants are smaller than their African kin.
On average, an Asian elephant stands an impressive 3.5 m (11.5 ft) tall and weighs 5,500 kg (6 tons). African savanna elephants grow up to 4 m (13 ft) tall, and they weigh in at a whopping 8,000 kgs (9 tons). So let’s admit it. You against an elephant is not a fair fight.
Although you’re seeing a slow-moving, gentle behemoth, be wary when you’re out in the wild. Angry elephants can be fatal to humans. In India, elephants attack and kill 300 people per year. Victims include poachers, tourists, and even local residents.
And now you’re face-to-face with an irate elephant. How do you tell if it’s going to attack or just bluffing? Can you intimidate an elephant? How can chili peppers help you escape?
Step 1: Recognize a bluff
If an elephant is trying to figure out whether you’re a threat, it will run at you in a swaying, side-to-side motion. Its trunk will be loose and flopping between its tusks. Be brave. You can handle this by standing your ground and staying still. Don’t make any sudden movements or turn your back to the animal. The elephant will likely run a short distance, come to a halt, and maybe flap its ears a few times as it assesses the situation.
If the animal seems hesitant and unsure, it’s your turn to bluff. Try using a loud, firm voice to startle the elephant, showing that you’re not afraid. If it’s bluffing, the elephant will likely turn around and go back to its business.
Step 2: Know When You’re in Trouble
When an elephant is serious about attacking you, it tucks its trunk up close to its body, and its ears will be set back. You’ll need to respond to these signs that the elephant is not messing around. Get out of there! Run for a high spot or some kind of shelter.
Step 3: Keep Changing Direction
If you weighed five tons or more, it would be hard for you to run in zigzags. It’s hard for elephants too. So use a zigzag pattern as you run away, and make the elephant keep changing direction. Your mass is a lot smaller, and that will help you.
And remember that elephants can only run at their top speed of 25-40 km/h (15-25 mph) for a short distance. They’re likely to sprint over shorter distances of about 50 m (164 ft). This gives you an advantage and a chance to escape.
Step 4: Use Chemical Warfare
What if you can’t run, or you tire easily? If you’re going into an area where there could be elephants, preparing for the worst could save your life. If you want to have an ace up your sleeve, pack a can of pepper spray or some chili powder.
Squirting pepper spray at an elephant will cause a massive sensory overload when its spicy, natural capsaicin hits the trunk. It’s very sensitive, and the capsaicin will hurt, distracting the massive mammal from chasing you. It might even cause the pachyderm to run away. And chili powder can work the same magic in a pinch.
Whew! You’ve escaped an angry elephant’s charge. Take a minute and catch your breath. Thankfully, the elephant’s heavy footsteps gave you a warning. But an elephant is not the only animal that may want to have you for lunch. Many other animals are just as aggressive, but much quieter.
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- “How To Survive An Elephant Attack”. Petzal, David. 2019. Field & Stream.