What would happen if I approached a wild elephant?

The reality TV show Survivor was shot in Gabon this season. Gabon is a small equatorial country on the west coast of Africa. The show was shot in a Presidential Reserve replete with magnificent wildlife—lowland gorillas, hippos, elephants, and several others I can’t readily identify. The cast is constantly fretting over this, and seems to be particularly concerned with encounters with elephants. I’m wondering how well-founded these concerns are. What would happen if I were to approach a wild elephant? I think (but I’m not sure) that their only natural predators are the big cats, and even then it takes several males working in concert to take down one of the big guys. Would the elephant let me approach it, or would it just instinctively run? Or would it attack me? He probably understands that’s he’s way bigger than I am, so how much of a threat would he perceive me as being?



What Gfactor is getting at is that elephants love to play soccer.

And they have very poor eyesight.

So wear solid colors when dealing with elephants.

Wild elephants will attack you. Getting between a mother and her baby can be especially deadly, as can males in must.

In 2003 there was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon who was on vacation with her mother in Cameroon’s biggest wild animal park. The mother approached the elephants. She didn’t understand the guide telling her in French to get away, and she ended up getting killed.

Amazingly, after taking her home leave, the volunteer returned to Cameroon to finish her service. Her story is a cautionary tale and also an inspiration.

Needless to say, when I went to that park and we found I was terrified.

I gather that Hippos are far, far worse.

I’ve worked in Gabon on wildlife surveys in several places where forest elephants are very common - Loango National Park and the Rabi area. They are very, very dangerous, and we always kept our guard around them. There were a number of stories about elephants who had killed people in the area by stomping them, in one case pealing an unfortunate guy out of his car.

We had two young male elephants chase the minibus we were using for transport, and one of our team members was charged by a female who had two young with her when he came up a bank and found her unexpectedly at the top of it. Fortunately she got tangled in some heavy vines before she got to him, and she eventually backed off and went away.

Whenever I and my assistants came upon an elephant on the trail we were extremely cautious. If it was ahead of us, we would just trot back to camp as fast as possible. If it was between us and camp, we would bushwhack around it as far away and as silently as possible.

Once I was trying to locate a bird by the side of the road when my assistant tapped me on the back and whispered “Elephant!” in an urgent tone. One had silently emerged from the forest just across the road about 20 feet away and was looking at us. We leaped into the bushes and hid for 10 minutes until it went away.

We found leopard tracks around our tent one morning, and there were hippos, African buffalo, crocs, and gorillas around as well. But in my book the most worrisome animals on a daily basis were the elephants.

Goddamned bell elephants.

Yep. Rang him like a bell, they did. :wink:

In general the hippos kill the most people in Africa, though, right?

I’ve heard that, but don’t know any definite statistics. Hippos I think are more widespread.

Hippos and crocs are easier to avoid - just stay away from the water (although hippos will forage well away from it at night). Elephants you can run into almost anywhere.

PS. An acquaintance of mine had her forearm ripped off by a Nile croc in a place on a river where I had gone bathing a week before. After that, I’ve been pretty disinclined to go near water in Africa unless in a pretty sturdy boat.

Yes, a wild elephant will stomp the bejesus out of you if you get too close, as one unfortunate Thai TV news reporter discovered a few years ago. The camera caught his full stomping, and amazingly he lived! Albeit a bit flatter after that.

I’ve been charged by a lone male elephant whilst on foot. (It got to about 10m away and then swerved and departed after our guides shot over its head). Lone males and females with young calves need to be treated with extreme caution, as others have said.

On the other hand I have approached elephant herds on foot on numerous occasions with no problem (getting to within 20-30m). The golden rule is to always have someone with you who knows what they’re doing.

Crocodiles can be deeply unpleasant. A friend of mine was bitten by a small one whilst I watched, and he did not enjoy the experience at all. They often will attack people washing in rivers. However, they are extremely cautious and will most times flee human contact. Attacks tend to occur at well-established spots for washing and drinking. The crocodiles get used to the human presence and decide to investigate. I have swum many times in African lakes and rivers with no problem.

Hippos scare the willies out of me. Whilst they are vegetarian they are also pretty aggressive, and will happily go through you rather than around you. They are also huge, much much bigger than you imagine. You are unlikely to meet them on land, unless at night if you have (stupidly) decided to camp on one of their trails. If you do, good luck, they are fast. In the water they are faster, moving along the bottom where you can’t see them. They can and will overturn any boat up to a reasonable sized motorboat, and for no discernible reason. I have canoed down the Zambezi on several occasions and once saw a hippo slip beneath my canoe as I held my breath. As an older and wiser person I’m not sure I’d do that river by canoe again, despite the experiences being some of the best I’ve had.

Lastly, remember that the most dangerous animal in Africa is the mosquito.

Hippos are a problem because they hang out in rivers, and people need rivers to bathe, drink, wash, and transport stuff in. So eventually you have to learn to work around the hippos, but now and then they take someone out. They also like to flip over boats. I’m told the worst scenario is to get between a hippo on land the water- the freaks them out and they will kill you.

My region usually had a few deaths by hippo every year. Mostly it was children swimming or people bathing in the river.

Now I know why they’re the symbol of a major American political party. :wink:

Tsk. Not very GQish, dear. :dubious:

FWIW, I’ve approached Indian cow elephants in the wild and generally been ignored. I was much younger then- seven or so, and they were fairly well-acclimated to humans, since they often venture onto the grounds of the school my grandmother runs.

On the other hand, I’d never approach a wild bull elephant. Even the local mahouts won’t do that unless they’re riding a larger one.

Here are some videos of elephant attacks:



:eek: How something that big and heavy can sneak up on you scares me to bits.

Just a friendly reminder or two:

  1. **Elendil’s Heir **: I’m sure you had the best of intentions, but we’re trying to keep politics out of General Questions.

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The underside of an elephant’s foot has a surface area of 40+ square inches, and they always have two feet on the ground (even when running). Thus, they don’t have loud, booming footfalls like you’d expect- they make no more noise than a human wearing boots.