That Time I Almost Got a Land Cruiser Thrashed by an Elephant in Africa
Tales from safari.
From a technical perspective, this photo is OK at best. And, I know, there’s barely a car in it. But we do have some on-road action here and it’s one of my favorite driving memories ever, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.
- Car(s): 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series Namib Edition
- Location: Kruger National Park, northeastern corner of South Africa
- Photographer: Me (@andrewatlarge on Insta, Twitter is @andrewpcollins)
- Camera: Canon PowerShot G7 Mark III
Here’s the scenario: You’re in a diesel, manual-shift Land Cruiser pickup truck (khaki tan) (the paint and your shirt) rumbling your way across a dirt track in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. This place is an absolutely immense nature preserve, and home to some of the most majestic animals on the planet. It’s early afternoon but you’ve already been driving for a full day, for a couple of days in a row now, subsisting largely off iced coffee and odd meat jerky packs sold to tourists for novelty.
Wind blowing around the cab, through open windows and dusty vents, is hot and a little exfoliating. The fans are covered in sand from a few days on safari, which will be flung at your face for the duration of the expedition. But it’s warm in the sun. Relaxing warm, make-you-tired warm. And just as you start teetering on zone-out levels of fatigue – “is that a mom and baby eleph– Ffff!“
As trees shake and birds scatter, two-plus tons of trunk and tusks and flapping ears emerge through an emerald curtain of vegetation. Now that you’re in a standoff with the largest animal above the ocean, what do you do?
I was pretty stupefied to find myself in such a situation about a year ago. Seeing an elephant pop out of the brush like I was on a damn Disney ride had certainly woken me up, and it was soon very easy to see what had happened. An elephant family was crossing the road, and one of the adults had come out to shake its fist (trunk) at me and tell me to stay the hell off its lawn.
The creature’s intimidation routine was 100 percent working on me – based on the size and proximity of its tusks I really didn’t think my Cruiser could outrun it if I went full-reverse and it decided to come after me. It was swaying and flapping its ears like crazy, which is supposedly only an indication that it’s preparing a mock charge, but I didn’t know that at the time. Even if I did… still scary.
The situation escalated as I tried to back away slowly. I’d slip the clutch and scoot my truck backward, the elephant took a step toward me. I inched forward and away, it shuffled even closer! Yeah, I put the camera down to commit all my attention to the situation. The frame definitely does not show the closest truck-to-trunk range of this encounter.
Finally, I just had to hover and hope it didn’t want to get its trunk tangled in my brush guard. After the elephants in the background of this image had long-since cleared the road, the semi-cab-sized animal in front of me figured I’d gotten the message and waddled off to rejoin its herd.
I can’t wait to go back on safari somewhere – even if it’s just to go look for raccoons and transplanted parrots around LA. Or maybe I’ll drive up to San Simeon to look at zebras (it’s a thing).