Thursday, August 12, 2010

Charged by an Elephant? - Been there, done that ...

Two weeks ago, I visited my buddy Stretch Moonman. He's a Snake Whisperer and Enviro Expert at a major Game Lodge bordering the Etosha National Park. We took a day-trip into the Park. Stretch was driving so that I could take pics.

We spoke about the problems I was still having with the Corolla - it was difficult to start and the engine would cut out sometimes when idling- a problem with the carburettor. Stretch remarked that he hoped we wouldn't be charged by an elephant and I said I didn't know of any such incidents. He replied that some time ago, an elephant had overturned a small car and showed me the spot where it had happened.

Strangely, for this time of the year, there was not much game to be seen, so we drove around and at midday arrived at Tsumcor, a man-made waterhole, where a small herd of Elephant was drinking and bathing.

All seemed quiet and calm but there was a tension in the air.

Suddenly a Tour Guide and her two Guests, pulled up to the waterhole in a Minibus. The vehicle had an irritatingly loud, high-pitched air-conditioner which immediately startled the animals and set them milling about.

Even after she turned the engine off the Elephants were still upset and started to move off quickly on a path just to the side and ahead of where we were parked. As they passed, a few of them moved toward the car, displaying; shaking their heads, flapping ears,trunks swaying and extended and performing a front-legged, two-step war-dance.

Most just passed by, but this one advanced towards us and for a moment it looked as if he was going to charge the car ... after what seemed like ages, he moved on and the whole herd melted away into the bush.

Stretch and I celebrated our little adrenalin rush as peace returned to the waterhole. Other animals came and went but there was still a strange tension in the air, the Giraffe were stiff-necked, alert and all staring in one direction. Stretch said there might be Lion close by.

The Minibus started-up again as the driver moved it to a better viewing position, immediately freaking-out every animal in sight.

The waterhole became quiet again. Stretch awkwardly climbed over onto the back seat to stretch his six-foot-six-long legs and we relaxed, chatting and enjoying the moment.

After about twenty minutes, more Elephant approached from the bush. The herd was tense and aggressive and one Cow immediately chased a sickly Vulture who had been resting nearby. The rest of the herd was drinking and the youngsters frolicked in the water but, all were on edge and nervous.

The tension increased when one of the smaller babies fell into the water-trough and couldn't get out. The mother trumpeted in panic, which sent the whole herd into a frenzy. I managed to get a shot of the mother helping it out using her trunk and pushing it from behind with her leg. Unbelievably, immediately the babe was on dry ground, it turned and plunged straight into the water again, setting off a new wave of panic among the herd.

After the baby had been rescued for a second time the agitated animals started moving toward us on their exit-path, which was in front of where we were parked.

At the approach of the Elephants, Ms Noisy Aircon started her car again and fled down the road with her guests, leaving us isolated and facing a herd of enraged beasts. Her action had inflamed the herd to boiling-point.

As they came toward and passed us, many of the adults displayed and mock-charged the car, making it clear that our presence there was unwelcome.

Stretch was still stuck in the back seat as we calmly rode the storm. I sat in the front passenger seat, hiding behind my camera, taking almost 300 pics of the whole adventure.

Escape was difficult and dangerous because there were two other vehicles parked about 40 meters behind us, blocking the road if we reversed. There was also the matter of my faulty car - would it start first go? ... if not, we could be in big trouble ...

Most of the herd passed by and stopped to have a sand bath a few meters away. We were just beginning to feel that we were out of danger when one of the stragglers, a cow who had passed us with a particularly aggressive display, turned around and slowly made her way back in our direction, eyeballing us all the time.

She moved towards a tree about 10 meters away and began nonchalantly plucking leaves. Stretch became instantly alarmed and warned that he didn't trust her; she was brewing something.

Hardly had he spoken when she was on top of us, filling-up my camera lens. She stopped short of hitting the car but it was clear that she was very angry as she ran around and approached from the front.

She charged the car a few times, ears flapping and ratcheting up the intensity level with each lunge, stopping just inches short every time. She wanted us gone and she was going to thump us eventually. I was still taking pics and from the angle of this shot I must have been trying to disappear under the dashboard at this stage.

Stretch said calmly behind me that it was time to move. I don't know how I levitated my long legs over the central console and gear lever and got them under the steering wheel but, in my next awareness, I was in the driver's seat shifting the gear into reverse, my other hand on the ignition.

This was our Moment Of Truth - if the car didn't start or faltered we were going to be hammered big-time, no doubt about it.

The engine sprang to life and, keeping my eye on the enraged beast still prancing in front of us, I kept the revs as low as possible as I reversed slowly backwards for about 30 meters until Stretch warned that I was heading into some rocks. Thankfully, the elephant seemed satisfied with our retreat and didn't follow. She pounded and scraped the ground in triumph.

The two other vehicles at the scene had fled as soon as we started reversing (I hope they got some good pics) and, it was at this stage that I realized that my heart was beating furiously in my chest, pumping pure adrenalin.

We breathed again but the drama wasn't over yet, a large cow was bearing down on us from the side, ears wide with bad intent ...

It was then that I decided that we'd used up all our luck and I took-off down the road - slowly - (in order to maintain SOME semblance of dignity) - my last impression of the scene was through the rear-view mirror; a massive hunk of flesh filled the road, watching us depart.

The Elephants had prevailed, the humans were in retreat.

In retrospect, I can't fault Ms Noisy-pants for making the welfare of her clients her first priority but I must admit that, as I was leaving the Game Lodge the next morning, I saw and directed a few bad vibes at her ... surely she must have been aware of the effect her vehicle was having on the animals and that she was placing us in danger.

For Stretch and myself it was an awesome adventure shared between friends. We'd handled it pretty well. Even though there were moments of heart-stopping tension, neither of us had succumbed to fear or panicked - we'd been on the Edge and had escaped unscathed.

For me though, the greatest satisfaction from the whole experience is that, for more than an hour, we were not just observers of an age-old drama, we were participants.

I've uploaded more pics of the whole sequence to a folder Angry Elephant in my Picasa Album ... you can view it as a slide-show there.

Related Post: Etosha Elephants



  1. Wow! That was quite the elephant adventure. Not one I would likely volunteer for and so glad I wasn't conscripted myself into such a scene. As you retell the story I can feel the tension. You and your friend did well in keeping your cool and getting some great photos. Thank goodness no one got hurt.

  2. Wow! This is an amazing adventure and post. The photos are incredible too. Thank you! I very much enjoyed tagging along on the experience.

  3. My heart was in my throat as I read this - oh my goodness ! What an experience (& I don't blame you for sending Ms Noisy Aircon bad vibes the following morning - what a menace !) .... thank goodness your vehicle started when it was supposed to - phew ! But ... what an experience .... you'll never forget it - and if anything, you got some magnificent photo's. (A snake whisperer ? Could only be in Africa ! Do tell us more next time !)

  4. Thanks Penny - yes, it was quite an experience - the elephant are very large close-up ... I felt totally vulnerable in my small car.

    Thanks for the visit and comment Callie ... I'm glad I lived to tell the tale.

    Hehe thanks Lynda ... I was thinking of selling the Corolla but I'll keep it awhile longer now - the sad thing about Ms Noisy is that she's an experienced Tour Guide and yeah, I'll do a few posts on Stretch sometime (he was nailed by a Puff Adder a few years ago and I've got some gory pics)

  5. Thank goodness the car started! Amazing photographs and taken under somewhat scary conditions. Reading this my heart speeded up. I have had an experience of being charged by a lone bull but he stopped just short of actually hitting the car. Our reverse gear also worked:) It is not a nice feeling. Elephants are beautiful animals but they need a lot of respect!

    I would also like to hear more about the snake whisperer. Snakes fascinate me, I also have a lot of respect for them as well:) Diane

  6. Yes, indeed, Diane - I have a lot more respect for Elephants now than I did before the experience ...

    I used the term 'Snake Whisperer' for Stretch because he's a herpetologist and curator of a snake park ... I took some pics inside the cage of Spitting Cobra but sadly most of them were ruined - I'll see if I can salvage a few for a post ...

    I used to handle snakes but abandoned that after I was bitten by a Night Adder.

  7. What an amazing and beautiful experience to share with us. Elephants are one of my favorite animals, though I am sure I'd have been terrified in your place. Fanatastic photos!!!

  8. Thanks Monica - strangely enough, I didn't feel afraid at the time, I think I probably channeled my fear into taking photos ... but as I said, after I'd reversed my heart was pumping pure adrenalin ... man, those Elephant are huge close-up ...

  9. These pictures have a extraordinary power and impact!

  10. Thank you Sciarada! ... I'm glad that you like them ...

  11. What an experience!! And the pictures are priceless! I once had a mother moose do this to my car, while the calf was stuck behind the car in a snow drift. Nowhere near as scary though.

  12. Thanks Inger - yeah, any confrontation with an animal can be scary, especially when it's a mother who thinks that her babes are in danger ...

  13. Fascinating, edge of the seat reading. Thanks for the story and great pics. The lesson surely is to make sure your vehicle is functioning properly and quietly before venturing out into the wilds.

  14. Thanks for your visit and comment Igsquirrel - yes, you're right ... I'll make sure my car's in good working order before visiting the Pans again ...

  15. Stretch Moonman ? and you find strange named stuff at my blog?
    That is one great story to be able to tell. Good that you don't need to tell it from a hospital bed.
    My knowledge of Elephants is all second hand but I think they are very social and intelligent.
    I wonder if the baby got in trouble for falling in twice. Maybe they blamed you.

  16. Hehe lisleman - yes, I have pics of Namibian place names that I'll post sometime ... I'm sure you'll enjoy twisting your tongue around them ...

    Yes, Elephant are highly intelligent, an example is the fact that the mother knew her babe was in trouble and used both her trunk AND leg to try help it out ...

    I don't think they blamed us - I've never seen a whole herd that agitated and aggressive though ... maybe they all got up on the wrong side of bed that morning ...

  17. Now we can really understand what caused your elephant nightmares a few days ago!

    The image of the baby getting hauled out of the water is excellent, and the little fecker jumped back!

    Grandtale well told and illustrated.


  18. Thanks gg - yes, the mother co-ordinating leg and trunk to help the babe was, for me, probably the most memorable moment of the whole episode ...

    gee, I miss your blog man, ... my musical education has taken a nosedive since you stopped posting ...

  19. What amazing picture and what an adrenaline-inducing adventure even from my living room here in the US!!! Coming to Africa is a lifelong dream and your pictures help me feel a little bit closer to this wonderful land. Thank you :)

  20. Amazing amazing amazing!!! Got an adrenaline jolt even from my living room here in New York :)
    Thank you for such wonderful artistic postings that make me love Africa even more!

  21. ... and thank you for your visit and comments tthoughts-of-a-therapist/Tabby Cat ... I've never been out of Africa and it gives me a buzz when my posts can convey the vibe to people in other parts of the world ... hope to see you in Namibia someday ...

  22. Those pictures are amazing!! What an experience.

    The big elephant helping the baby is such a sweet picture. As a mom I relate to that baby plunging right back into the water. Just like a kid ;-)

  23. Thanks for your visit and comment Tracie - what I love about baby Elephants is that, except for the tusks, they're exact replicas of the adults ...

  24. This was quite suspenseful! I'm sure I would have stayed and enjoyed the adrenal rush as well (because, like you, I'm a little crazy.haha)

    Here by way of Lisleman's linking you up to my Saturday Sampling post.

  25. Thanks for your visit and comment Mrs4444 - hehe I'm not really an adrenalin junkie but, with camera in hand, how could I not resist this photo-op?

    Thanks too to lisleman for the link.

  26. wow, what an experience! Great shots!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Saturday Sampling greetings from Casablanca, Morocco!

  27. Thanks for your visit and comment Blogitse

  28. Scary but so awesome! Glad you didn't get clobbered by an elephant. Loved the pics.

  29. Thanks for your visit and comment Real Life Reslers

  30. Brave brave brave. I don't know if I could have even gotten that close. You did get some incredible photos. Thank you for allowing us to view more in your album. WOW.

    Kristin _ The Goat
    by way of Saturday Sampling

  31. ... and thank you for your visit and comment Kristin

  32. Graham from what I know about Stretch he is the BEST person to be with in a situation like the Elephants, hey :-) His heart is almost the same size. Awesome photos. Love your "bush-journal"

  33. Thanks for your visit and kind comment Zoë.

    Yes, Stretch is one of the few people I'd trust to guard my back in a tough situation - after the way he handled his Puff Adder bite I have the greatest respect for him, I don't know if I could have been that strong ...

  34. Great story and pictures! Elephants are the most amazing creatures and I find it wonderful how strong their body language is - I s'pose it's because they are so big (haha). Thanks for pointing me at this posting of yours.

  35. Hehe ... thanks Sue ... yes, I'm sure their size has something to do with their attitude ... :)

  36. I read this in awe and aspirations.

    You are so captivating, between front-legged two step war dance and under the dashboard, you took us through.

    1. Thanks Fazlisa - It's not an experience I'd willingly submit to again ... :)

  37. OH MY WORD, Graham! what a hairy adventure! That elephant cow really seemed intent on attack! Just reading the post, had my heart beating in my ears! I loved the baby (trust it to go back into the water, like a naughty toddler!) We did a self-drive through the Masaai Mara in Kenya and the mini-bus tour operators were the bane of our lives. Why didn't Miss Noisy-pants get her air-con fixed? Anyway, thanks for sharing this post. My photos of elephants taken with my Sony Point-and-shoot from the back of our motorbike, seem wussy in comparison to your amazing shots. Have a great weekend. Jo

    1. Thanks Jo - I have a lot more respect for the power of Elephants now ...

      ... have you ever considered getting a camera that you can attach to your helmet? ...

  38. Hi Graham, Grant keeps on telling me he wants to buy one of those cameras that you mention above. I haven't looked into it yet. So far my little Sony works wonders. I write articles of all our bike trips for a South African adventure magazine and normally about half the photos the editor uses, are the ones I took from the back of the bike! Greetings Jo