Elephant Photobombs Tourists: How’d It Happen?

Move over, Banff ground squirrel—there’s a new photo crasher in town. 

An African bull elephant snuck up behind tourists in an undated photo taken in Wedza, Zimbabwe, in “the photobomb of a lifetime,” according to a statement from Barcroft Media.

The elephant photobomber. Photograph by Marcus Soderlund, Barcroft Media/Landov

The five women failed to see the seven-ton animal approach them from behind as they concentrated on snapping pictures at the Imire: Rhino and Wildlife Conservation area.

Marcus Soderlund, 24, photographed the moment, which actually occurred on purpose when a wildlife handler got the male elephant, called Makavhuzi, to approach the tourists, Soderlund told News Corp Australia.

“Eventually they noticed his presence and turned around and reacted with laughs, surprised looks and smiles,” he told the news organization.

So, how in the world can an elephant creep up on you?

For one, the elephant has “big, cushiony feet” that allows it to tread softly, said Craig R. Sholley, vice president of philanthropy and marketing for the African Wildlife Foundation. (See more elephant pictures.)

Sholley described his own experience on safari in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park: “Suddenly we had 30 elephants appear out of nowhere. I think all of us in the vehicle were looking at each other and saying, ‘How did that happen? They basically came through a forest and we didn’t hear a thing!'”

The pachyderm’s intelligence also plays a role: “If they don’t want to be heard, just like a human being, they will attempt to be silent—and they’re pretty adept at that,” Sholley said. (Related: “Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests.”)

Once an elephant approaches a person or object, the first thing the mammal will do is give you a “sniff test” with its trunk, an important sensory tool, he added.

In the Company of Elephants

He cautioned the picture is “a contrived situation,” since truly wild elephants may not feel as comfortable around humans. (See “African Elephants Understand Human Gestures.”)

That’s why everyone needs to be careful around elephants, since “one swipe of their trunk or quick movement can do a lot of damage.”

In interacting with elephants, “it’s all about managing respect between people and animals and assuring everybody is in their comfort zone,” he said.

It’s also not a stretch to think that this bright, social animal might’ve known that it was in on a joke by sneaking up behind the photographers, Sholley noted.

“Whenever you’re in the company of elephants,” he added, “it’s a good day.”

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Tell us: What animals have photobombed you?

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Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com