A family of three has recounted how they thought they “were surely going to be killed” by a herd of angry elephants that trampled their car on a major highway in Malaysia.
The car had struck one of two elephant calves crossing the road on Sunday night, attracting the wrath of the older elephants waiting nearby.
The weather was foggy and it was drizzling, hampering visibility for Mohd Azian Mohd Noor, a 48-year-old medical assistant who was driving his family from the Malaysian island of Penang to Terengganu state, nearly 500km away.
Mr Noor was negotiating a sharp left turn when he saw the elephant calves and slammed the brakes.
His car struck one of the calves, launching it onto the bonnet and then to the ground.
The medical assistant said his wife Salina Yahya, 47, screamed as they saw wild elephants charging towards their car, which also had their eldest son, Muhammad Nazrin Shah, 23, inside.
“My wife, who was seated in the rear, screamed and said all of us were surely going to be killed,” he said.
“The elephants trampled on the left doors of the car and smashed the rear windscreen.
“It was a most frightening moment because the elephants were trumpeting loudly.
“We were worried that they would topple the car,” Mr Noor said.
“The car slammed into the young elephant that was walking on the road with the herd,” said Zulkifli Mahmood, chief superintendent of the local police station in Gerik town.
“Shortly after the incident, five elephants stepped on the car,” Mr Mahmood said.
The calf got back up to its feet and Mr Noor said his car rolled forward due to the incline on the road, leading to him restarting it and speeding away.
Officials said no deaths or serious injuries were reported from the incident.
Elephants are intelligent animals that are known to share strong bonds with their friends and family members, are emotional beings, and also said to have a very strong memory.
Forming a matriarchal setup, the mammals are extremely protective of their young ones.
The behaviour of the elephants was understandable, said Joyce Poole, co-founder of an elephant research and advocacy non-profit called Elephant Voices.
“If you put yourself in their position, if your kid was hit by a car and you felt that people were negligent or whatever you thought, I suppose you or your family might fly into a rage or scream or shout at people also,” she told Business Insider.
“They’re really tightly bonded families,” she said, pointing out that female elephants live together their entire lives.
“So absolutely, if they feel that a member of their family is threatened, they pull together as a united force. And whether that means just threatening and making a commotion or it means bashing a vehicle, they’ll do it,” said Ms Poole.
“If a calf even as much as squeaks, everybody has to run over and see whether it’s okay.”
Elephant calves are taught “everything from how to stand, swim, how to find food, and how to protect themselves” by their elders, according to Freedom for Animals, a UK non-profit.
Peninsular Malaysia is home to around 1,000-1,500 elephants that are classified as “endangered” under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, according to the Malaysia chapter of the Wildlife Conservation Society, a US non-profit.
Human-elephant conflict is the primary danger faced by the animals in the country, that have faced habitat loss due to increasing infrastructure development.
Elephants with large tusks are also rare and are targeted by poachers in Malaysia.