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Getting charged by elephants in Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

When I found out I was going to be visiting Sri Lanka last year, I had one thing on my mind: find some elephants in the wild.

More specifically, baby elephants. I know you’re on the same page.

Fair warning – I am about to bombard you with nothing but elephant photos. Because I can’t help myself. I love them. Even though they totally tried to kill me once. But more on that in a minute.

elephants Sri Lanka

So a few months ago I found myself in Sri Lanka with Cinnamon Hotels for a conference. On our first day they set the bar high and organized a sunset elephant safari for us in Kaudulla National Park. All my childhood Dumbo fantasies were about to come true!

As we piled in the back of a jeep standing up and hooting and hollering as we sped along the red dirt roads into the park, it started to pour and we squealed for cover.

Luckily, the rain never lasts for long so soon it was dry enough to emerge as we got closer and closer to the elephants.

elephants Sri Lanka


elephants Sri Lanka

Also lucky for me we ended up with the BATSHIT CRAZY driver who decided it was his mission that evening to scare the living daylights out of us and make sure we went on a ride we would never forget. Ever.

In retrospect, I look back on this evening fondly, but I can tell you at the time, I thought I might be meeting my maker in the grasslands of middle-of-nowhere Sri Lanka.

While the other drivers stuck to the obvious choice of 4 wheel drive tracks, ours decided to go rouge and create his own. Which is fine by me, I like a rebel.

elephants Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

My whole life I have had a deep fondness for animals and nature, and I always hoped that one day I would be able to go on a safari and see some of the world’s greatest animals for myself, and you know, not hidden away in a zoo or circus. And I would never even consider riding one.

Elephants are the most amazing creatures, and I was dying to see them in the wild. Full of such character and life, I frequently watch Youtube videos of them when I need to smile, like here, here, and also here.

How can that not make you happy?

elephants Sri Lanka

Image via Flashpacker HQ

elephants Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

I could barely contain my excitement as I spotted my first elephant in the distance, a massive male, he must have been king of the herd.

Then I got distracted as our driver tried to go through a lake. As the front tires sunk deep into the mud and the jeep stood at what felt like a 90 degree angle, we heard him have a little conversation with himself before finally declaring, “nope nope nope” and reversing out quickly.

At this point we all looked at each other not knowing what we were in for.

elephants Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

The rest of the jeeps sped ahead towards the main herd of elephants as we made our way over behind them. Undeterred, our driver veered around and parked super close to the elephants in front of everyone. Front row tickets everyone!

Being too cheap to invest in a nice zoom lens, I was stoked to be so close to them and get great photos. In fact, at this point I should take some accountability for our crazy ass driver since I was definitely in the backseat yelling “closer, closer CLOSER” as we sped along.

No shame.

elephants Sri Lanka

The elephants barely registered our presence, just munching on grass and moving about along the waters edge; but as they nommed down on their dinner, they were slowly moving closer and closer to use.

Fine by me, bring those baby Dumbos closer by all means!

Squealing on the inside (and on the outside) I was mesmerized by the herd. Trying to imagine who the moms were, what their names would be, what kind of personalities they have, and watching the little fuzzy babies toot at the bigger elephants and trip over their own feet, I was in animal heaven.

elephants Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

Finally, the elephants had arrived super close to the car, I’m talking like 10 feet away when it’s like a lightbulb came on and they realized we were there staring back at them. They starting shuffling back and forth, blaring their trumpet noses and flinging grass around stomping.

We started murmuring to each other, like we should probably go but then the driver kept being all like “no worries, it’s all good.” I mean he’s the one that comes out here all the time, maybe this was the elephants’ idea of saying howdy.

Famous last words, guys.

elephants Sri Lanka

Suddenly one of the elephants let out a wild call, trunk in the air, repeated by those around her, and then we turned around to hear the answering call of the enormous king elephant on the other side of the jeep, blaring his horn and full on charging us from across the grasslands.

Let me tell you guys, there is no adrenaline rush in the world that can compare to being charged by an elephant bigger than a truck.

Looking back the whole herd on other side started running towards to which we all screamed “HOLY FUCK” and dived down inside the back of the jeep, cameras and dignity long forgotten.

We elbowed each other out of the way deep in the back of the jeep as the driver yelled at the king elephant and banged on the side of the car stopping him. Then of course as fate intervened as we were literally sandwiched between a rock and hard place, the jeep was stuck in the mud and as we tried to get away, the elephants charged again.

elephants Sri Lanka

elephants Sri Lanka

A fleeting thought crossed my mind as we were huddled together in the back of that jeep: “Does my travel insurance plan protect me against charging elephants?” But before I could begin making a mental list of all the adventure activities I’m covered for with World Nomads, the jeep finally beat the mud.

Screaming bloody murder, we finally got away as the whole herd moved behind us reunited with each other.

That was a close call.

Moral of the story? When an elephant looks at you like this, you run like hell.

Have you ever been on a safari? Do you love elephants, especially baby elephants as much as me? Do you have any crazy wildlife encounters to share? Spill!

elephants Sri Lanka

Many thanks to Cinnamon Hotels, the PTBA and Sri Lankan Airlines for hosting me – like always I’m keeping it real, all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!

57 Responses to Getting charged by elephants in Sri Lanka

  1. Marcia @ CuracaoRentalHomes February 16, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

    The baby elephants are so cute!!

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

      I know right?!

  2. Lisa February 16, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    Great post, gorgeous photos – how lucky!
    I saw elephants in the wild for the first time this winter. They were Pygmy elephants in Borneo. But we weren’t allowed as close to them as you were – now I know why!

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

      probably for good reason haha!

  3. Tania February 16, 2015 at 9:34 pm #

    This sounds incredible. I love Heffalumps too and found a place in Thailand, Surat Thani, that treated them really well called Elephant Hills. You couldn’t ride them (which made me happy) and they seemed so happy. It was easily the best experience I’ve ever had. I’d recommend it. Elephants and animals in general are the best reason to travel , even if they are charging at you ^^

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

      100% agree!

  4. Lauren February 16, 2015 at 11:18 pm #

    That sounds terrifying and amazing at the same time! Elephants are hands down my favorite animals and I’m totally ok with an afternoon full of baby elephant Youtube searches. Great post and pics 🙂

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

      pretty much was both!

  5. Katie February 17, 2015 at 12:08 am #

    We came across a massive herd of elephants in Kruger National Park in South Africa and they started flapping their ears at us and trumpeting so we quickly reversed. Pretty amazing! They don’t like people getting too close

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

      nope they don’t!

  6. Azzy February 17, 2015 at 1:07 am #

    While reading this I was going “OH – HELL – NO!”

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:33 pm #


  7. Neysha February 17, 2015 at 1:24 am #

    Elephants are my favorite! They’re so incredible and majestic…. until they chase you! haha this is a great story.

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

      definitely unforgettable!

  8. Matthew Cheyne February 17, 2015 at 1:50 am #

    Of all of the crazy places in the world to get a crazy driver, you had to get the one whose car gets left behind while he attempts to audition for Top Gear (fast car show where men do stupid things to try to out drive one another), in the habitat of wild Asian Elephants.

    This could easily have turned out tragic if not fatal. I’m no zoologist but I figure the reasoning behind a whole bunch of cars going out on safari together would be to mimic a herd of animals in the minds of the elephants thereby playing on the safety in numbers theory.

    A single car being stuck on its own in the middle of herd of elephants and the its plausible that the elephants would view you as a threat to their little ones, which may have been what could have happened here.

    All that said though, I’m glad that although severely shaken by the sounds of it, you are otherwise safe along with the others in your group.

    Being in a Buddhist nation as Sri Lanka is, I chalk this one up to positive karma that you came out of it safe and sound.

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

      agree haha

  9. Olga February 17, 2015 at 3:40 am #

    Awww, the baby elephants are just adorable!!
    The little girl in me wants to hug them so much, haha 😀

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

      I still want to hug them haha!

  10. Chloe Rebecca February 17, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    Amazing pictures! I would love to be able to see elephants in the wild one day!

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

      Be sure to head to Sri Lanka then!

  11. Lyana February 17, 2015 at 7:48 am #

    This is so cool!

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

      aaaaand terrifying!

  12. Steph Rogers February 17, 2015 at 11:44 am #

    What a story! That elephant definitely has a case of crazy eyes though!

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

      seriously crazy eyes

  13. Camille February 17, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    Baby elephants!! Too cute.

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

      I know right?!

  14. Sandrine February 18, 2015 at 3:40 am #

    Ah ah, I love what you say, “when an elephant looks at you like this, you run like hell”… I would have done like you, it’s frightening !

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

      trust me on this one!

  15. Sabina // Sabina Meets World February 18, 2015 at 5:30 am #

    Good advice for anyone going to see elephants! That whole experience sounds terrifying.

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

      was pretty scary and awesome!

  16. Cailin February 19, 2015 at 4:03 am #

    I have been on safari a few times in Southern Africa and elephants are always some of my favourite animals to see (next to the rhino that is). I’ve never had an adult male charge at me thankfully but I did have some baby elephants attempt to charge at us but they were just too adorable to be scared. If I had the opportunity I really think I would just travel to see animals for the rest of my life 🙂

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

      I would totally loved to be charged by the babies!

  17. Ashley February 19, 2015 at 9:20 am #

    That last photo is frightening and hilarious. I’m glad you guys got away in time! I thought a herd was going to charge at our vehicle in South Africa when a few of the larger elephants turned toward us and started flapping their ears and swaying back and forth. The guide said “we were fine”, but I was ready to ditch the vehicle and make a run for it. Turns out the guide was right, though, and they eventually just moved away from us.

    • Liz February 19, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

      yeah they do give warnings haha

  18. Victoria | Girl Tries Life February 19, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    Hahaha, never trust an elephant! Great photos. We were at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and the staff were very clear that you should never stand between two elephants, you know… to avoid the smushing. Didn’t have to tell me twice.

    • Liz February 21, 2015 at 11:21 am #

      Noted haha

  19. Rahman @ Iran Tours February 20, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    Hey Liz, I like your story telling. I could feel the excitement of escaping the scene and getting stuck in the mud! Those are huge animals. You should be very brave to enjoy adrenaline rush at this level!

    • Liz February 21, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

      thanks! it was a rush that’s for sure!

  20. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas February 20, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    Gah, I totally needed baby elephants in my life this morning!

    • Liz February 21, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

      I need them every morning!

  21. Grace | The Beauty of Everywhere February 21, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    I wonder if your driver does that with all of his groups? Madness! Still, you got so incredibly close to the elephants! It must have been amazing.

    • Liz February 21, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

      hahaha who knows!

  22. amy - toothbrush travels February 23, 2015 at 1:58 am #

    hahaha this is brilliant, what a story to remember! xo

    • Liz February 26, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

      hahaha I’ll never forget it!

  23. Katelyn @ Diaries of a Wandering Lobster February 23, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    Haha, only in the world of Liz does this happen! Love the elephants, so cute. And I love your expression on your face. You’re definitely in heaven!

    • Liz February 26, 2015 at 10:20 pm #

      so true hahahaha

  24. Joe Russo February 24, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    Holy crap – now that’s what I call “crazy eyes”!!! Sounds like an amazing trip, even though you probably had to change you shorts after that little adventure. I’ve never been around the elephants like that but I have had the monkeys in Malaysia swarm a woman and steal all her groceries. That was pretty funny, actually.

    • Liz February 27, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

      serious crazy eyes, right?

  25. Mike | VagabondingMike February 27, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    At the risk of sounding stupid (I guess the PC version of that word is ‘uninformed’), I didn’t even know Sri Lanka had elephants.

    Learn something new everyday.

    • Liz February 28, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      haha learn something new every day

  26. Ashley March 1, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    This is amazing! I love elephants!!! 🙂

    • Liz March 7, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

      they are the best!

  27. Lissa March 17, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

    I hear elephants are good luck. Hopefully the memories of these cute and adorable baby elephants will give you good luck as you travel.

    • Liz March 20, 2015 at 7:31 pm #


  28. Angel Mendez April 12, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    Wow, beautiful photos! I’ll certainly add it to my list!

    Stunning pictures of wildlife and culture! Check this cool travel blog!
    Nairobi Elephant Orphanage

  29. Rekha Rajan May 21, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    I am from Kerala in India (which is very similar to Sri lanka) and hence seen a lot of elephants in my life. After seeing the pics and reading…I am guessing a trip to Sri Lanka is in order. :-))


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