Khao Yai Elephant Attack

by nickupton

My sister had one request when she came to visit me in Thailand, and that was to see a wild Asian Elephant. She got more than she bargained for!

Many people ask me about the dangers in the forests in Thailand. Tigers? Leopards? Mosquitos? Snakes? My answer is always the same: "Elephants".

Often people think of elephants as cute, friendly, happy animals but in fact wild elephants in Asia are often bad-tempered, harassed and fired up with hormones. They don't even need to be angry, just bumping into you will result in major injury.

An encounter with an elephant in Khao Yai national park proved my point.

Watching Wild Elephants In Thailand

Asian Elephant

When I asked my youngest sister what she wanted to do when she was visiting me in Thailand, she gave me that oh so irritating answer, “whatever!. However, on being pressed, she did finally ask if there was any chance of seeing a wild elephant. As I am a frequent visitor to the forests in Thailand I was able to tell her that there was a distinct possibility if we drove around the roads in Khao Yai national park at night. As she was visiting in July, which is in the wet season, there was an excellent chance as this is when most of the sightings occur.

Have You Ever Seen A Wild Asian Elephant?

All About Asian Elephants

Asian Elephant: A Natural History
Natraj Publishers
$209.28  $221.7

A Visit To Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

After a few days together in Bangkok we hired a car and drove to Khao Yai national park; a journey of about two and a half hours. We spent a fairly wet day walking in the forest, where we came across leeches, giant spiders, massive trees and weird noises, all of which I am used to but scared my young sister witless! This is a fairly common reaction for first-time visitors to a rain forest, which is a highly biodiverse habitat full of insect life. She very quickly joined the club of “leech dancers” which is a term I use to describe visitors who have a low tolerance for leeches. The dance occurs when the first leeches crawl on to the dancer and suddenly they realize that they have a passenger or two. Then, they lean down and flap at the leeches on their legs, using their hands, whilst hopping from one foot to the other. Some people accompany this with a rather shocking “leech song”, the lyrics to which are something like, “whao, wha, wha, ay, ay, ay, getoff”.

Having discovered that forest walking was not my sister’s favourite event, I decided to take her to Haew Narok waterfall, which in the wet season is quite a spectacle. As we drove along the forest road, chatting away, a car heading towards us flashed its lights at us. No police were likely to be in the forest so I couldn’t really think what the issue was, perhaps it was just a mistake.

The mistake was not taking heed at this signal, for as we rounded a bend there was an elephant in the road! The elephant was a young male, not fully grown but still big enough to cause a lot of damage and he was casually feeding on roadside vegetation. As we were quite close I backed up a little and we took photographs of it. As lighting was not great and the car vibrating from the engine running, our photos were a little blurred, so I turned off the engine to get better pictures (see below) a very silly mistake!

Asian Elephant Before Attack
Asian Elephant Before Attack

Run Away, Run Away!

As we took our photos, another car came around the corner from the opposite direction, scaring the elephant as much as the driver. Unfortunately for my sister and I, the elephant decided it was us it would punish and it came racing at us with its trunk raised and bellowing at us. I hastily and clumsily threw my camera down and turned the car’s ignition key. This happened quickly enough but in my fear I fumbled for the gear shift but eventually threw it into reverse. By this time the elephant was only about 6 feet away and I fully expected it to thump right into us. My sister was silent as I reversed up the road as fast as I could with the angry elephant only two or three feet in front of us, still charging. By some miracle we stayed a couple of feet in front of it for a distance of 50-60 feet; it was a sight that neither of us was likely to forget in a hurry – an angry elephant staring right at us through the windscreen of the vehicle from only a few feet away as we desperately reversed.

When the elephant eventually decided to stop we nearly crashed into a tree as the road went around a sharp bend, but we finished up completely unscathed. At the end I looked at my younger sister and we both began nervously laughing with me asking her if that elephant was wild enough for her. The rest of the day was spent with us reliving our experience and laughing at what we would tell our nervous mother. Not only were we lucky enough to live through a wild elephant charge but we saw the same elephant again later, on our way back, this time much calmer and we got some nice photographs.

Asian Elephant Plush Toy

Here is one Asian elephant that will not attack.
Webkinz Signature Asian Elephant
$45.95  $12.24

Khao Yai Elphant Attack

The elephant attack that my sister and I witnessed was very similar to this one.
What Are They Saying?

"Bai, Bai, Bai. Lew, Lew. Bai, Bai......"

This is Thai for "Go, go, go. Quickly, quickly. Go, go" etc.

You don't need to speak Thai to really understand the panic in the guy's voice and that he thinks it is time to get out of there. 

All I can say is that when I meet an elephant on the road these days I "Bai lew mark" (go very quickly).

Closeup Poster Print of Asian Elephant in Thailand
Close-up of Asian Elephant at Elephant Conservation Centre

The Sounds Of Khao Yai At Night

One of the things that visitors to forests in Asia will be amazed at is the abundance of noises at night. At Khao Yai I have heard the calls of nine species of owls, 3 species of nightjars and a multitude of frog calls, insects and the occasional elephant or deer.

These three MP3 downloads feature different sounds from Khao Yai national park at night.

Thailand Khao Yai National Park, At N...
Frémeaux & Associés
Only $0.99
Thailand Khao Yai National Park, At N...
Frémeaux & Associés
Only $0.99
Thailand Khao Yai National Park, At N...
Frémeaux & Associés
Only $0.99

Thailand Travel Photos

A visual trip around Thailand to give you a taster of the wide variety of things to see available in the Kingdom.
Photographers love Thailand for its scenery, colorful culture and wildlife. This day trip began as a bird photography tour but other photographic opportunities were excellent too.

More Thailand Wildlife

Birdwatching in Thailand - My Favourite Birds
A selection of my favorite birds from Thailand; I spend probably half the year birdwatching in Thailand and over the years there are many birds that I am always pleased to see.

My Sunbirds In Bangkok
All about the Olive-backed Sunbirds that visit my front yard and window box at my home in the suburbs of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand.

Updated: 10/07/2017, nickupton
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nickupton on 12/16/2022

The local tradition as far as I see it is to scream and dance around if a leech sticks onto you. Personally I just flick them off, it is easy.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/16/2022

The computer crashed before I added my other question to my comments about African and Asian wild elephants.

Would there be anything that local tradition or that Thai medicine suggests about preventing a leech attack or about stopping one that already has started?

DerdriuMarriner on 12/16/2022

It seems strange to hear about ill-tempered elephants since I grew up knowing about African and Asian elephants from the elephant and the horse rides that were organized by area Shriners and from various zoos and from loving Dumbo stories.

Why was it that your sister even thought of specifying "whatever" -- ;-D -- as coming across a wild elephant? Had she not suggested that meeting, would you have volunteered it for her "whatever" experience?

Sheri_Oz on 10/11/2012

When I was in Africa, I wanted to see elephants but didn't. Seeing your charging elephant will be enough for me. Thanks for the story.

PhuketSailingTour on 09/15/2011

Elephants are impressive animals. Respect from them. I they get you, even if you are siting in your car, you are not safe. I am living in Thailand and see this big elephants every day. I love them. We need just to keep distance and they will be OK.

nightowl on 06/23/2011

I've been to Thailand when my dad used to live there, but never came across a wild elephant. Amazing story!

kajohu on 06/22/2011

Wow, much as I'd love to see a wild elephant, I guess I'd rather see it from a BIG vehicle :-) What a great story! And I loved your description of "leech dancers" too -- something tells me I'd be a pretty good leech dancer!

chefkeem on 06/21/2011

What an exciting story, Nick...and very well-written, too. I couldn't stop reading until the end. Thanks for the thrills. :)

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