One of my scariest wildlife photography moments
One of the scariest moments I experienced in the wild was during a trip in 2017 to Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, India. This is one of my favorite national parks in India with a very diverse habitat that supports differents floras and faunas.
For a couple of days, myself, a fellow photographer and the guide/driver have been following a trio of elephants, possibly siblings. I managed to make some fantastic frames with the elephants especially in the morning and evening light. One such frame is shared above. In this image, the beautiful backlight, the dense forests behind the elephants and the elephants perfectly balanced in the frame, makes this image special and unique. It is a beautiful habitat shot of the elephants in the park as well. The trio was very active and this encouraged me to follow them through multiple days to get more shots around the park.
On the third day of safari, during the evening safari session, as a routine, we rushed back to the same area where we had been capturing images of the elephants. The path to the riverbed was narrow and had bushes on both sides of the road. As soon as we took a curve on the road, the trio all of a sudden appeared to the right of the safari vehicle and driver instinctly stopped the vehicle. These safari vehicles are specially made open jeeps with no roofing in order to aid for undisturbed photography. So we were literally in the open and just a few meters away from the animals.
One of the elephants was taking a mud bath, while the little one, was grazing. The third elephant however seemed alarmed by our unexpected presence and our closeness to the gang. You can see him watching us in the image above. He observed us for a few minutes and appeared to settle down. We were quite close to the three elephants and there was not much frames to made at such close proximity. I quietly murmured to the driver to move further away and then within a fraction of time, the elephant that was watching us, started to charge us.
All wild animals have their own way of conveying discomfort, now elephants usually make sounds or at least mock charge. A mock charge is when an elephant charges towards you while making sounds and then stops at a distance from the intruder. I have had the experience of elephants making a mock charge at the safari vehicle in the past so we anticipated that he would stop. However, in this case, the elephant did not stop and for a moment I felt that perhaps I was in for some big trouble.
Although a bit late, instinctively my driver managed to put the vehicle in reverse as this was the only option and drive backwards however the elephant managed to get very close. It is indescribable the emotions than ran through my mind, my heart was pounding all the while, I had lost balance and dropped back on my seat hard and my arms were hurting from the fall. Since the vehicle was being driven backwards, the ride was disoriented and we ran over rocks and pebbles hard, all the more, making the experience unpleasant. The elephant had chased us for a good 50-70 meters before losing interest. We stopped the vehicle briefly with a sigh of relief.
Now, Elephants in general are much more notorious than some apex predators such as Tigers in the Indian Forests. So our panic during the incident was valid. The one thing that we learn from such an incident is that it is always best to keep a safe distance from wild animals and to respond to their warnings promptly, especially the likes of elephants and avoid intruding into their comfort zones. In this instance, we were in the wrong place, wrong time accidentally and we were lucky to make a narrow escape. As much as a photograph is important, the images should be captured without risk to the subject or the photographer. This is the message I would like to pass on with this story.