Move over, Banff ground squirrel—there’s a new photo crasher in town.
The five women failed to see the seven-ton animal approach them from behind as they concentrated on snapping pictures at the Imire: Rhino and Wildlife Conservation area.
So, how in the world can an elephant creep up on you?
For one, the elephant has “big, cushiony feet” that allows it to tread softly, said Craig R. Sholley, vice president of philanthropy and marketing for the African Wildlife Foundation. (See more elephant pictures.)
Sholley described his own experience on safari in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park: “Suddenly we had 30 elephants appear out of nowhere. I think all of us in the vehicle were looking at each other and saying, ‘How did that happen? They basically came through a forest and we didn’t hear a thing!’”
The pachyderm’s intelligence also plays a role: “If they don’t want to be heard, just like a human being, they will attempt to be silent—and they’re pretty adept at that,” Sholley said. (Related: “Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests.”)
Once an elephant approaches a person or object, the first thing the mammal will do is give you a “sniff test” with its trunk, an important sensory tool, he added.
In the Company of Elephants
It’s likely that this particular elephant is accustomed to being around people and was just curious about the goings-on, Sholley said.
In this sense the picture is “a bit of a contrived situation,” since truly wild elephants may not feel as comfortable around humans. (See “African Elephants Understand Human Gestures.”)
Even so, everyone needs to be careful around elephants, since “one swipe of their trunk or quick movement can do a lot of damage.”
In interacting with elephants, “it’s all about managing respect between people and animals and assuring everybody is in their comfort zone,” he said.
It’s also not a stretch to think that this bright, social animal might’ve known that it was in on a joke by sneaking up behind the photographers, Sholley noted.
“Whenever you’re in the company of elephants,” he added, “it’s a good day.”