Bluff Charged By An Elephant

Posted on May 16, 2014

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There aren’t many times in my life when I can say that my heart rate has speeded up from an equal dose of fear and excitement. But my jeep safari to Kaudulla National Park provided just that. The incident in question happened at the end of the day.

The rain had come down hard in the afternoon refreshing everything. As my jeep rumbled along the bumpy dirt track in the warm sunlight I asked the driver to open the top and pull back the plastic cover so I could stand with my head sticking out of the roof.

After 20 minutes we hit an opening and in a matter of seconds I was left astounded and gobsmacked. Not one, not two but there in front of me were 80 wild Asia elephants eating and gently walking in the field. It’s a sight that is now engrained firmly in my mind for life and something that I will never forget!

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I felt my eyes well up as I took a sharp in-take of breath. I must have stayed and gawped for at least two hours. Everything they did brought a smile to my face. As the light began to fade my driver reminded me we needed to head back to the gate as it was drawing close to closing time and we were most likely the only jeep left in this area. Reluctantly I agreed but managed to convince him to take me the longer route out of the park in case there were other mammals I might see. We had about 40 minutes.

The rain had started to come down again, but not hard, more of a stead drizzle. I pulled on my rain mac, tugging down on the hood and then proceeded to stay upright as the jeep bombed it down the now muddy road, flanked by steep banks. As we turned a corner, there just ahead of us we spotted a large male elephant. Solitary, feeding on the road side. He looked like he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Oh crap,” I thought, “What do we do now?”
Nothing is the answer, you usually have to wait until an animal this size is done eating. My driver however was clock watching and decided to take his chances.

He revved his engine and we began hurtling towards the male. Unsure of how to react I remained standing upright, considering whether I should start filming on my iPad. Then he slammed hard on the brakes and waited, putting his gear into reverse…… just in case. And in our case, it was just as well!

Pradeep (driver) had hoped to scare the elephant down the bank. The problem was there was no immediate path for the elephant to go down and so he was effectively trapped unless he turned around and wandered a little further up the road. That just wasn’t gonna happen. He was eating and he wasn’t ready to stop for anyone.

I can remember this in slow motion. It took all of about two seconds for the elephant to respond. His trunk left the tree he was feeding from and he turned to face us head on. His ears flapped widely, and then he started moving forward slowly at first, then picking up speed. Bang, bang, bang as each heavy foot hit the floor. Pradeep slammed on the gas and we started flying backwards very fast. The elephant was now in charge mode.

“Holy f***,” I muttered as I watched hypnotised clinging onto the roof, knuckles now turning white, while I bounced hard up and down. The speed and power at which the elephant moved forward was impressive – he was clearly not happy.

After about a few hundred metres he stopped, just like that. Turned around and sauntered back to this tree, ears gently flapping and resumed eating as though nothing had happened.

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My heart was thumping hard and fast and I was laughing hard. Had I just imagined this….? No! Of course I got nothing on film of the incident – moving or stills – it happened so fast and I was too busy holding onto the jeep for dear life.

“Wow that was a close call,” I said to Pradeep half shouting and laughing from adrenaline while bending my head back into the jeep.

Pradeep however was less amused. It was fast approaching six thirty. We waited maybe five minutes or so. Then he started to revving his engine again while flashing his headlamps.

“This guy has a death wish,” I thought. My parents are not gonna be happy when they read this blog post. I started to calculate how quick I would need to jump out through the roof if the elephant reached us and as I was figuring out a worse case scenario of spending the night in the park sans jeep, or worse still if another elephant appeared behind us, Pradeep came up with the best strategy I’ve probably ever seen for a hostile situation – not!!

Pradeep, a slightly overweight middle aged man got out of the jeep – he is probably no bigger than five foot nothing weighing around 70kg. He started booing and clapping his hands together.

I looked at him like he was a crazy person. There was a fully grown male elephant, weighing in at around four to five tons roughly 70 times what he weighed. His heckling technique was clearly a) not going to work or b) save us from a second charge.

Then came the dialogue directed at the elephant. Priceless. A constant stream of muttering.

“Go! Go!” more clapping.
“OK buddy I think you need to get back in the jeep in case the elephant sees this as an opportunity for a tete-a-tete,” I thought.

He continued, “This is not my jeep….I must return. You make me late, you tell my boss. I am only driver. This is not my jeep.”

The clapping and the booing continued followed with some personal detail – way da go Pradeep you just bonded with another species.

“I only one child have. I cannot in park stay. Wife very unhappy. You go now,” he said shouting at the top of his voice.
“Ok fine tomorrow you meet my boss,” he said as he climbed back into the jeep in a huff slamming the door.

“Ahem, I think that’s one all now, well done buddy, you showed him,” I thought.

Back in the driving seat he revved once more, flashing his headlights, wheels spinning. All the while the elephant is pacing back and forth across the narrow road, not sure where to go. Then suddenly it turned on its heels and began to edge its way up the road.

Pradeep convinced his dialogue hit home uttered something and began chuckling as though this was clearly the best strategy. We began to tail the elephant, slowly and with distance.

The elephant did eventually find a path suitable to climb down the bank from. At which point Pradeep suddenly became Nico Rosburg as we hurtled past towards the main gate. Quite a spectacular bi of drama to an already mind-blowing day and an experience I’d like to believe the elephant won’t forget either.

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Posted in: Asia