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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.

A huge male elephant photobombs tourists in a picture
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?


  1. Liz Langley
    February 4, 2014, 7:50 pm

    @deb sulzberger

    How cool! Thanks for leaving the comment, Deb!
    So what were you photographing and how surprised were you when you turned around? 🙂

  2. deb sulzberger
    February 2, 2014, 4:50 pm

    Happy to say I am one of those in this photo (red jacket)
    will treasure this photo forever

  3. Mwethia wa Kinyua
    February 1, 2014, 7:06 am

    #doug you got it right..thanks for the observation..bless you!

  4. mel
    United States
    January 30, 2014, 9:18 pm

    doug, i’m not sure it’s a matter of anonymity or credit, the names of the photographer and author are given for copyright type/responsibility reasons and the quoted expert is named probably so you can look him up and decide how much of an expert you think he is. it’s a matter of attributing the information to a source that’s likely to be reliable.

    i think it could certainly be an interesting goal to name those with skill who made the picture possible. if you’ll notice, they didn’t name the women pictured in the photo, either. but i’m sure they got signed releases from each of them before publishing the photo anywhere! i’d guess in any industry there is a lack of crediting those whose skills made a great outcomes possible. i’m really not sure how to get around that tho. i do like it as a goal tho – not forgetting the little people or the worker bees. just have to find a way to do it that doesn’t result in overly long oscar speeches or anything 😉

  5. doug
    s. Humboldt county, norCal
    January 30, 2014, 3:29 pm

    What a great picture.

    A comment about the text, in which we learn the name of the photographer, as well as the name of some guy talking about elephants who apparently had nothing to do with the photo. We even learn that the _elephant_ has a name!

    But the “wildlife handler” – I’m assuming an African – remains anonymous. The very person whose skills and experience helped make the photo possible remains in the background: invisible, unnamed.

    The practice of not bothering to give the names in photographs of people of color, or people from so-called lesser developed countries, is still widespread. Here it is again.

  6. Nabil A Nasseri
    United States
    January 29, 2014, 11:22 pm

    This used to always happen to me when I was studying lizards in Tanzania. Would be knelt down trying to catch a lizard under some downed trees to look up and have one just several meters come up to see what the silly human was doing

  7. paige
    gainesville florida
    January 28, 2014, 6:53 pm

    Another brilliant article from Liz Langley!