Whenever you’re photographing huge, wild animals, there’s always potential for danger. As a wildlife photographer, you should be prepare yourself the best you can, so you know how to respond in the event something does go “off script”. In the event of an elephant charge, the young tourist in the video below can show you precisely how to handle that situation.
When photographing an elephant while on vacation at the Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand, the tourist, Tor Bowling, began noticing the elephant was feeling threatened by the man’s presence. As the animal began posturing, Bowling did exactly as is recommend in this situation–he calmly stayed put, not turning his back to the elephant. He even kept snapping photos!
Judging by Bowling’s bada*s reaction to the event, it seems likely he was knowledgeable about elephants. A well-known zoologist (and National Geographic photographer) by the name of Dr. George Schaller, helped to discover what is referred to as displacement activities, while spending time studying elephants. Displacement activities are things such as trunk twitching, or pawing at the ground with one leg and kicking up dust.
Dr Schaller’s research led him to discover the displacement activities are the result of fear (not aggression), and the more an animal is displaying displacement activities, the less likely it is to actually charge. They are considered “mock” displays of aggression and are often followed by a “mock” charge–which is the type of charge we saw in the video above. A “mock” charge is a method elephants use to see if something–or someone–is aggressive and pose a threat.
This discovery, coupled with the fact that most humans cannot outrun an elephant in the first place, is why zoologists such as Sr. Schaller, suggest you remain still when facing a mock charge and never turn your back to the animal.
You can tell the difference between a “mock” charge and an actual charge through the animals body language, which Bowling seemed to be aware of. In this instance, you can see the elephants ears are relaxed, whereas if this elephant really meant business, it would have it’s ears pinned back to the sides of it’s head. It’s trunk was also relaxed–had it been an actual charge, the trunk would most likely be curled inward.
From what my research has yielded, if you are faced with an actual charge, you should still not run and also, good luck. That’s why it’s best to know how to avoid putting yourself (and the elephants) in these types of situations altogether, or travel with a partner who is knowledgeable about wildlife behavior and help keep everyone s