When Tor Bowling first saw the elephant, he froze. He tried to step aside, but the creature tracked his every move. After a few moments, his friend flipped on a video camera. Less than a minute later, the elephant began to charge toward Bowling, who was holding nothing but his camera. Then this happened:
Bowling has since been called incredibly lucky, a sorcerer, and an elephant whisperer. But in truth, the 27-year-old Thai engineer had just quit his job and was traveling around his country for a month, trying to keep a positive attitude and find a new direction for himself. His confrontation with the elephant—which took place in the Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Thailand in February 2015—epitomizes that Zen-like state of comfort, as he appears to dismiss the charging animal with a wave of his hand.
For those interested in the science behind the phenomenon, elephants are known to mock-charge as frequently as they really charge—to test if they’re up against a friend or foe. When an elephant’s ears are relaxed and it screams and kicks up dirt, as the one in the video does, it’s faking you out. If its ears are pinned back and it lowers its head, it’s for real. Tor doesn’t sound like he knew this, but his intuition was right—he was never really in danger.
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