Elephants, the famous gentle giants of the animal kingdom, are known to be friendly to humans most of the time. But, like humans, there is a limit to their kindness, and they can get provoked and go wild.
If you have visited elephants in their natural habitat or captivity, and you have seen an elephant go from friendly to wild, you may want to know what caused the sudden behavior change.
In this article, we explore some of the reasons why elephants get wild and what you can do if you encounter an aggressive elephant.
Why elephants get wild
Elephants can become wild when they feel threatened, whether by predators, humans, or other animals encroaching on their territory. Additionally, protective instincts, stress, fear, illness, or injury can provoke aggressive responses in elephants.
Elephants can exhibit wild or aggressive behavior due to a range of factors. One primary reason is self-defense. When elephants perceive a threat to themselves or their herd, they may react aggressively as a means to protect themselves or their group. This response can include charging, trumpeting, or even physical confrontations.
Another common trigger for aggression in elephants is mating competition, especially among male elephants. During the mating season, bulls can become highly competitive and territorial, leading to confrontations with rival males. These interactions can be intense and sometimes result in aggressive behavior as they vie for the attention of a female in estrus.
Why do elephants get aggressive?
Elephants are territorial animals, and they can exhibit aggression when their territory is encroached upon by other elephants or animals. This territorial protection is a way for them to defend their resources and space.
Additionally, mother elephants, known as cows, can be extremely protective of their calves and may exhibit aggressive behavior to deter potential threats to their offspring. They can charge at you aggressively to prevent people or cars from getting close to their babies.
Moreover, stress, fear, and unfamiliar situations can provoke aggression in elephants. Factors such as noise, human disturbance, or being placed in unfamiliar environments can trigger aggressive responses.
Furthermore, human activities like habitat destruction, poaching, or harassment can also lead to aggression in elephants, as they perceive humans as threats to their well-being. Finally, sickness or injury can cause elephants to react aggressively when approached or handled by humans or other animals.
Why do elephants attack humans?
Although elephant attacks are rare and only occur due to specific circumstances, elephants can attack humans for several reasons. Here are some reasons why elephants might attack humans:
One of the most common reasons for elephant attacks on humans is a perceived threat. Elephants are naturally protective of their space. When they feel cornered, threatened, or believe that their calves are in danger, they may charge or attack to defend themselves or their offspring.
In some cases, human actions can provoke elephants. This might include getting too close to them, making loud noises, or engaging in behaviors that elephants find distressing or irritating. Elephants have been known to react aggressively when they feel harassed or provoked.
Male elephants, especially during the musth period, can exhibit aggressive behavior as part of their mating competition. While they may not intentionally target humans, they can become more unpredictable and potentially dangerous during this time.
Disease or injury
Sick or injured elephants may act defensively and aggressively when humans approach, as they might perceive any movement or contact as a threat to their weakened condition.
Human activities like habitat destruction, poaching, or captivity can lead to stress and aggressive behavior in elephants. These activities disrupt their natural behavior and may lead to increased hostility towards humans.
How do you know if an elephant is angry?
While it can be challenging to figure out when an elephant is angry, certain behavioral cues and body language signs may indicate their emotional state.
Here are some signs that could suggest an elephant is potentially angry:
Agitated elephants often flap their ears rapidly. However, this can also be a cooling mechanism, so it’s essential to consider other behavioral cues alongside this sign.
An elephant with a raised tail may be in a heightened state of alertness or agitation. A relaxed elephant typically holds its tail down.
Agitated elephants may display restlessness by pacing back and forth, shifting their weight from one foot to another, or circling.
Loud and aggressive trumpeting vocalizations can indicate agitation or distress. However, elephants also use trumpeting for communication in various situations.
This is a clear sign of aggression. An elephant may charge by running towards a perceived threat, often with its ears out and trunk raised. This can be a bluff charge or a genuine attempt to attack.
An elevated trunk can indicate alertness or potential aggression. It may be a warning sign before charging.
Low-frequency rumbling sounds can indicate a variety of emotions in elephants, including aggression, but they can also be part of social interactions.
Observe the overall body posture of the elephant. A tense, stiff, or defensive posture may suggest agitation.
Staring or holding a gaze
An elephant staring directly at something or someone can be a sign of heightened attention, which may lead to aggression if the perceived threat persists.
Do elephants remember enemies?
Elephants have an impressive long-term memory and can remember positive and negative experiences. While they may not remember “enemies” in the human sense, they can recall threats or dangerous situations and respond accordingly to protect themselves or their group.
Elephants live in close-knit family units and social groups, and they rely on their memory to recognize and remember the members of their herd and other elephants they encounter. This memory helps them maintain social bonds, navigate their environment, and make decisions that contribute to their survival.
In terms of potential threats, elephants can remember encounters with predators or humans that posed a danger to them or their group. This memory can influence their behavior when they encounter similar situations or individuals in the future. For example, if an elephant has had a negative encounter with humans, such as poaching or harassment, it may become more cautious or fearful when encountering humans in the future.
Can you survive against an elephant?
Surviving an encounter with an elephant, particularly a wild one, can be highly challenging due to its enormous size and strength. As one of the largest land animals on Earth, elephants can pose a significant threat to humans.
Their size, strength, and aggression make them formidable, and it’s crucial to avoid situations where you might be in direct contact with wild elephants or engage in activities that could provoke them.
If you do encounter elephants in their natural habitat, it’s essential to maintain a safe distance, stay quiet and calm, and respect their space. Loud noises and sudden movements can agitate elephants, and feeding them or intruding on their territory should be avoided.
What to do if an elephant chases you?
If an elephant begins to chase you, it’s a sign that the animal perceives you as a potential threat or is agitated. In such a situation, you should take the following steps:
Do not run
Running from an elephant is not a good idea, as these animals can run surprisingly fast and may perceive your flight as a threat or an invitation to chase. Running may also trigger the elephant’s chase instinct.
Try to remain as calm as possible. Speak in a calm, soothing tone to let the elephant know you are not a threat. Avoid making sudden movements or loud noises that could escalate the situation.
Back away slowly
While maintaining eye contact, slowly and carefully start moving away from the elephant. Do not turn your back on it, as this can be seen as a sign of aggression.
Move to a higher ground
If you are near a hill or a sturdy tree, gradually make your way to higher ground or climb a tree if possible. Elephants have difficulty navigating steep slopes, and being at a higher elevation can reduce the perceived threat.
The goal is to increase the distance between you and the elephant. Moving sideways while facing the elephant can help maintain its attention without appearing confrontational.
Use objects as barriers
If available, put objects like a vehicle or a large rock between you and the elephant. This can serve as a barrier that may deter the animal from pursuing you.
Avoid yelling or making sudden, loud noises, as this can agitate the elephant further. Try to maintain a peaceful and non-threatening presence.
Wait for it to disengage
In many cases, if the elephant loses interest or no longer perceives you as a threat, it will eventually disengage and move away. Continue to back away slowly until you are at a safe distance.
Contact local authorities
If the situation becomes dangerous or if you cannot safely distance yourself from the elephant, contact local wildlife authorities or emergency services for assistance. They can dispatch trained professionals to handle the situation.
Encountering an aggressive elephant is a potentially life-threatening situation. The best approach is to avoid provoking or startling these animals in the first place by keeping a safe distance and respecting their natural habitat. Responsible behavior around elephants can prevent such confrontations from occurring.