What should I do if an elephant is annoyed by my presence and if I can't outrun it?
Elephants are a major threat in two situations (not that they are not a threat in other situations):
- The herd has calves.
- The elephant is a single male tusker.
In the first scenario, the protective instincts of the herd can cause the herd to be aggressive. In the second scenario, single males are known to be temperamental (especially during mating seasons, also called as elephants in musth).
Things to look out for:
- All elephants have tell tale signs of aggression - Wide open ears, stiff tail (a swinging tail is a happy elephant), trumpeting. This means the elephant is not OK with your presence. In such a situation, the elephant can charge at you.
- Elephants have a mock charge. The mock charge is to scare you away from its territory. In a mock charge, the ears will be fanned out and the trunk will be mostly swinging around. However, the elephant will stop and turn around and mostly run back to have a second look at you.
- In case of a real charge, the ears get pinned back and the trunk is either rolled up or curled inwards as it runs towards you.
Now once an elephant is charging (either mock or real), there's only one thing you can do - stand your ground and make a lot of noise. Running or climbing trees is of no use. Elephants can outrun a human and can tear down trees with ease.
The other option is to use firecrackers to scare the elephant away. This is a common non-lethal practice used by the forest officers in India when they come across aggressive elephants in the wild.
In case the irritation of the elephant doesn't turn to a charge, you should back away slowly keeping the elephant(s) in sight all the time. Elephants have a poor eyesight when compared to their sense of smell and listening. So it's always a good idea to be downwind if possible to an elephant.
NOTE: Most of what I've written comes from the personal experiences I've had with Asiatic elephants in the South Indian rain forests. I've been volunteering for an annual forest survey for the last 5 years with the forest department where we try to map the mammalian count to assess the overall health of the forest. I've had two mock charges at me (along with the forest officer and the anti-poaching officer) by a tusker in the last 5 years.
If the Elephant is annoyed, not actually aggressive, then walk away without hesitating.
If you are between a mother and calf, do not approach the calf.
Do not try to climb trees.
Animals are not emotional about your presence. They will do the minimum needed to ensure their own safety. Only in rare cases does this mean that the animal will choose to attack.
So by reducing the risk to the animal (put distance between it and yourself) you will get them to ignore you.
About other animals: With animals that have been accustomed to humans the rules change. This is especially true for baboons. Also a few animals notably the African Buffalo, are naturally aggressive and highly unpredictable.