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What should I do if an elephant is annoyed by my presence and if I can't outrun it?

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    @Nikhil: Voted to re-open. This does not answer your question, but it is worth the read. outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/7244/… – WedaPashi Feb 20 '18 at 12:41
  • @Sue I would say the answer is same irrespective of the geographies. Asiatic and African elephants have similar signs of aggression. This does not change much across the geographies. The location (woods or trails) etc does not matter either. I'm assuming the OP is interested in wild elephants. – Ricketyship Apr 23 '18 at 16:58
  • @Ricketyship, your comment looked probably right until I read your answer, and now know it's definitely right! I'm jealous of your experience with elephants! Nikhil hasn't been back to give more details anyway. I'm going to delete my first comment, as it's unneccesary, and then this too once I know you've had a chance to see it. Yours is still interesting though, so I hope you leave it if you see fit. – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Apr 23 '18 at 23:39
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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.

  • This is an awesome answer! Your conservation work is vital to the future. You mentioned that a good strategy is to make a lot of noise and stand still. Is there something about firecrackers that makes them more effective than other types of noise? Thanks! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Apr 24 '18 at 0:06
  • @sue it’s just a lot of noise that scares them away. Firecrackers are easily accessible and easy to carry that’s all. – Ricketyship Apr 24 '18 at 3:36
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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.

  • Elephants kill roughly 100 humans each year, African buffalo's around or over 200 and hippo's 500. So I wouldn't really agree with the advice that elephants are less likely to semi-spontaneously attack you than buffalo's are. Maybe more likely, per individual animal. – Monster Feb 22 '18 at 13:47
  • @Monster can you expand this comment into an answer and include references supporting your statistics? Actually your counts might be low, this link telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/5149977/… says Elephants kill 600 a year – James Jenkins Feb 23 '18 at 17:30
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    Honestly I don't feel qualified to write an answer to a question like this. Most of the things I know about it are easily googleble, and much of it comes down to "elephants are friggin dangerous!" I do not know how to handle wild elephants, aside from some anecdotes about people who were lucky, and got away with things like flapping with the doors of their car to threaten the elephant right back (elephants flap their ears as a warning). But seriously, elephants are really, really dangerous. I do not wish to kill anyone, so I'm not going to try giving a half correct answer. – Monster Feb 25 '18 at 6:54
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    If I can add a little extra warning to someone elses answer, that's something I can do. – Monster Feb 25 '18 at 7:02

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