Guidelines for living and enjoying elephants safely

Guidelines for living and enjoying elephants safely

How to live with elephants

  • Be observant and mindful when in the bush – even around houses.
  • Keep a fence around your house
    • Electric (standard, 2-stranded, 45-degree etc.). Functioning at all times.
    • Non-electric (beehive, Kasaine, sharp and rolling rock barrier, pyramid barrier, stone wall etc.).
    • Cattle grid at the entrance (electric or rolling).
  • Protect your water supply
    • Electric or non-electric barrier.
    • No water pipes lying exposed above ground.
    • Do not have a full water tank if not present.
  • Mindful living
    • No feeding of wildlife.
    • No petting or taming wildlife.
    • No oranges or citrus at all.
    • Plant unpalatable vegetation near the house – do not have plants favoured by elephants near the house.
    • Protect outside rubbish bin with electric or non-electric barrier and keep away from gas, geysers etc.
    • Frequent removal of rubbish.
    • Limit noise pollution.

Guidelines for living and enjoying elephants safely

How to view elephants safely


  • Give them the right of way.
  • Approach slowly to the minimum distance of 50 m (elephants have personal space).
  • Be mindful of where all individuals are so you do not separate them, box them in or block their way.
  • Stay in the vehicle.
  • Only slow and determined movements.
  • Be quiet – shot off the engine, no shouting, yelling, or crying, no banging on the door, no drunken behaviour etc.
  • Leave slowly and calmly if elephants show unease at your presence.
  • Give males in musth plenty of space
    • A minimum of 80 m distance
    • Do not attempt to drive past
    • Leave calmly if approached
    • Leave at the first sign of unease
  • Always have a clear escape route that is not in reverse – you will not be able to drive faster than a charging elephant in reverse.
  • In case of mock charge: Bang on car and shout and leave as calmly as possible.



  • Speed up to elephants.
  • Separate elephants from each other.
  • Block their path or box them in.
  • Chase or follow elephants wanting to get away.
  • Feeding or bringing citrus fruits.
  • Shout, yell, bang on the door etc.
  • Keep engine running (unless the car is unable to start again) or rev engine.
  • Get out of the vehicle.
  • Sudden, jerky, or jumping movements.
  • Speed past elephants.

Guidelines for living and enjoying elephants safely

How to behave in conflict situations

  • Talk to them calmly.
  • Clap hands determinedly.
  • Shine flashing lights at them (not directly into the eyes).
  • Light chilies-bricks.

Grow unfavoured plants as a deterrent in a buffer zone around property/house and close to the house

Guidelines for living and enjoying elephants safely

How to understand what elephants are saying


Listening – Standing completely still with head raised, ears lifted and at a 45-degree angle.

Periscope-Sniff – Trunk lifted in S-shape detecting scents in the air, e.g. predators.

Sniff-Towards – Trunk is held straight and in direction of the object of interest, e.g. individual.

Reinforcing social bonds

Reach-Touch – Reaching out with trunk to touch other individuals.

Caressing – Using trunk to caress another by wrapping trunk over back or around the belly of a calf, touching genitalia, face, temporal glands etc. Within a family group.

Social-Rubbing – Rubbing head and body up against another stationary individual. Between closely related individuals.

Trunk-Twining – Two elephants entwining their trunks.


Foot-Swinging – Lifting front leg and swinging foot. Sign of uncertainty of what action to take.

Touch-Face – Touching own face (mouth, ear, temporal gland, eye) with the trunk. For reassurance.

Jaw-Tilted-Upwards – Jaw tilted so tusks are parallel to the ground with ears slightly spread and lifted.


Ear-Spreading – Facing adversary with ears at 90-degree angle from the body to appear bigger. Can also happen when surprised or excited.

Head-Shaking – Head twisted to one side and shaken from side to side with ears flapping against the face.

Standing-Tall – Head held above shoulders with raised chin while looking down the adversary.

Forward-Trunk-Swing – Abrupt swinging trunk towards the adversary, e.g. smaller animals, people.

Ear-Folding – The lower half of the ear is folded under and back creating a horizontal fold across the ear.

Tusk-Ground – Bending/kneeling to push tusks into the ground and uprooting vegetation. A show of strength and intention.

Mock-Charge – Rushing towards and stopping short of the adversary while Standing-Tall, Ear-Spreading and kicking up dust. Often with a shrill trumpet but can be silent.

Real-Charge – Rushing towards adversary with trunk curled up to tusks can make contact first. Usually silent.


Temporal-Gland-Secretion – Streak of dark fluid running down the face from a gland between eye and ear. Strong, pungent odour.

Also seen in females and non-musth males as a mood-indicator without the strong smell.

Urine-Dribbling – Continual dripping of urine giving inner legs a wet, shiny appearance. Strong pungent odour.

Trunk-Bounce-Drag – Trunk tip dragged along on ground leaving snake-like impressions. A threat at close range.

Musth-Walk – Walking with a swagger and head held high.

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