Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Safety from elephants ( Answered,   9 Comments )
Subject: Safety from elephants
Category: Science
Asked by: lori-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 23 Apr 2002 01:17 PDT
Expires: 30 Apr 2002 01:17 PDT
Question ID: 3064
As a 125 pound woman with an average fitness level, can I really run in zigzags
and be safe if an elephant is chasing me at full speed.  Also, if I can be safe
by running in zigzags, what speed do I have to run in relation to the speed of
the elephant, how long (in meters) do I have to "zig" before I "zag," and at
what angles should I zigzag?  I've always wanted to know this.
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
Answered By: drdavid-ga on 23 Apr 2002 11:55 PDT
The best advice I can offer on your proposed zigzag escape from an elephant 
is "don't try it!" 

People who live in areas where wild elephants are common can probably give you 
a better answer to your question from personal experience or at least the 
experience of acquaintances. The information I was able to find on-line is 
surprisingly limited. I could not even find a reliable number for the actual 
top speed of a charging elephant! However, whatever the actual number, it seems 
pretty clear that an elephant can "run" (well, move with whatever it's fastest 
gait is) significantly faster than you can. Elephants are known to be able to 
travel at least 25 mph (40 km/hr). The premise of your question is that while 
you have a slower top speed, you are presumably much more agile and can change 
directions faster (assuming, of course, that you have the presence of mind to 
do so). 

For a first person account of an escape by someone named Alan (ultimately by 
mountain bike!) from a charging elephant see Glenn Ord's personal web pages:

As with all large animal encounters, he first describes efforts to avoid an 
actual charge. He stood his ground rather than running and tried to make 
himself appear larger than he was with the aid of his bike.

There are better published guidelines for escaping from other large animals. 
There are many guidelines published, for example for how to handle an encounter 
with a bear. See, for example, "What do you do when you meet a bear?" at the 
web pages of

Again, the author strongly discourages any attempt to outrun the bear. Making 
noise is generally a good idea. Move SLOWLY if you're going to move. Consider 
climbable trees in your vicinity. For black bears, tree climbing is a 
questionable option since they can also climb trees. For elephants, the concern 
would be finding a large enough tree that it wouldn't be knocked over by the 
charging animal (again see Alan's story above).

For primary source information on top elephant speed, you might want to consult 
the posting on the dinosaur archive on this topic:

or the work of the Berkeley Locomotion Lab

Clarification of Answer by drdavid-ga on 23 Apr 2002 12:14 PDT
Searches used:

Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: philip_lynx-ga on 23 Apr 2002 01:38 PDT
The google search term 'elephant running speed' returned various links that
indicate a speed of 21-25 mph. 10 m/s correspond to 22mph, so you would have
to be a very good runner to maintain your distance from the elephant...
In other words: Good luck! :-)
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: tkarcher-ga on 23 Apr 2002 04:35 PDT
If I'd encounter an elephant (which is quite unlikely to happen in southern 
Germany... ;-)), I'd try to hide behind the nearest tree: I doubt an elephant 
could circle a tree faster than I can...

My 2 cents, Thomas
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: warmonkey-ga on 23 Apr 2002 06:28 PDT
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: hedgie-ga on 23 Apr 2002 13:09 PDT
I will accept drdavid's result of relative speeds of elephant and
human , with
the cautionary
note that human may be more motivated then the elephant in this
scenario. To
evaluate that
effect,  we would have to run a series of experiments and evaluate
statistically :-).

I will answer that part which drdavid omitted - the zig-zag angle: The
between the line
connecting you to the elephant and your direction should be always
zero. If you
use this
optimal strategy, than length of zigs and zags, mathematically
speaking, is

 In plain English: run straight away.

 Soldiers zig-zag (at random angles and times) to make aiming
 We are assuming that elephant is not carrying a rifle and landscape
is uniform.

  Happy running. Aren't you glad you took your laptop with you?
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: bookface-ga on 23 Apr 2002 18:33 PDT
drdavid's answer is not really complete, nor entirely correct, and hedgie is 
mistaken about the benefits of zig-zagging to avoid being trampled by an 
elephant. Elephants have poor vision, but good hearing; presumably the 
zigzagging prevents them from identifying exactly where you are at and where 
you are going.

From :
"Elephants eat for about 20 hours a day consuming some 100 - 200kg depending on 
size. If they stop eating there is usually something bothering them. Next their 
ears will flap before they start shouting. They will usually try to back off 
but if there are calves around they may attack. Depending on their proximity, 
try to make yourselves big if you are in a group (spread out) and make noise to 
scare it. If all else fails, and you can not attack it yourselves then run. 
Elephants have very good ears and sense of smell but bad eyesight. Try to run 
in a zig-zag pattern confusing it. Hopefully it will give up."

A zig-zag pattern is a good idea in both approaching and retreating from most 
animals. Firstly, zig-zagging assures that the approach is smooth and is much 
less threatening than a direct movement, and additionally one moves cyclicly 
further and closer, which is apparently comforting to some kinds of animals.

Zig-zagging away has an entirely different purpose. The pursued is generally 
smaller than the pursuer, and inertia comes into play; if you are an elephant-
sized being moving forward with all of your mass, it is a lot more difficult to 
stop moving in one coordinate and transfer all of that forward momentum to the 
opposite coordinate than if you are, say, a rabbit-sized or human-sized being. 
Hence, the appropriate angle to zig-zag at is 90 degrees, and the appropriate 
length depends entirely on the elephant's behavior; ideally you want to have 
him/her coming towards you at top speed and enough time to get out of the way, 
but in practice I would imagine you'd just want to get it at a fair pace 
following directly behind you.

One traveler details part of his visit here:

"Then, a female elephant went berserk. . . she returned to the clearing and 
found no animals there, so she grabbed a tree branch and ripped it off, 
flinging it over her shoulder. . . A hare that had been hiding nearby took this 
as an opportunity to escape and it ran a zig zag course towards us, above in 
the Ark, with the elephant hot on its heels. The rabbit hid behind a rock as 
the elephant stomped on the grass behind it, and waiting until the elephant`s 
back was turned, it bounded away unseen."

Impalas, which are also threatened by elephants, also "employ a confusing zig 
zag escape route, with sudden directional changes and exceptionally high leaps 
making it difficult for the pursuing attacker to strike."
( )

As far as speed goes:
There's a rather good reason there was no good results for running speeds of 
elephants. "Elephants can't run. Their leg pairs, front and hind, are too close 
together. In any gait, except a fast walk, the hind fee would clobber the front 
feet." However, "Normal walking speed for an elephant is 7-1/2 mph."
( )

Additionally, this page ( )
"The elephant's amble is not much faster than the walking speed of a human - 
about four to six kilometers per hour. If the need arises, elephants can nearly 
double this pace and maintain it for hours over long stretches.

When elephants flee or attack, they can attain speeds of 40 km per hour over 
short distances of ca.100 meters. In such extreme situations they are therefore 
faster than humans but slower than a riding horse, antelopes and most big cats."

If the elephant is not in full attack mode, or you're over 100 meters away (109 
yards, 327 feet), you're probably going to make it; if it's closer and 
charging, your safety is probably not guaranteed, but your best bet would 
probably still be trying to zigzag out of the way until it's exhausted and 
gives up. However, elephants rarely will charge unless provoked, so you will 
probably be ok running away from them, even straight, or in zig-zags for 
confusion purposes, as humans can about double their walking speed too (about 3-
5 miles per hour, or 4.8-8 km/hr).
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: bookface-ga on 23 Apr 2002 18:38 PDT
Google queries I used:

"average walking speed of a human"
"speed for an elephant"
elephant top "walking speed"
"top speed for an elephant"
zig zag "run away" elephant

P.S. If you'd like to try out this principle of zig-zagging, try playing with 
someone's dog, running after them in an open yard.
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: ttrg-ga on 09 May 2002 01:38 PDT
it semms to me the question was a matematic one
and all the answers and comment are off topic
Subject: On running from bears
From: dridgway-ga on 21 Jun 2002 15:38 PDT
It's true that you can't outrun a bear, but that doesn't mean running
is worthless. If a bear is charging, running can help you get to a
suitable tree or hardsided shelter before the bear makes contact. If
you can outrun a slower member of your party, no joke, so much the

Successful pepper spray anecdotes involve very close distances: e.g.,
point blank into bear's nose and mouth. Professionals bring firearms,
and also discharge them at close distances.

As an aside, I've never seen a tree that I thought I could climb far
enough up, but I've never tried while being charged by a bear, either.

Important books:

Bear Attacks: Their causes and avoidance. Stephen Herrero, Univ.
Calgary wildlife biologist.

Bear Attacks: The deadly truth. James Gary Shelton. Not an academic,
but includes numerous anecdotes. The cover photo was found in the
camera of a solitary hunter; it's probably a portrait of the bear that
killed him.
Subject: Re: Safety from elephants
From: lokison-ga on 24 Sep 2002 14:33 PDT
But be very critical in the selection of the tree that you run around. ;)

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy