One man was cycling along, minding his own business, when he felt something on his trail. Glancing over his shoulder, the guy was terrified to see an elephant charging towards him. However, all was not as it seemed.
Jasoprakas Debdas is a wildlife enthusiast based in India. There, he spends his days filming many of his country’s native animals and posting his footage on YouTube for the entertainment of the general public.
Luckily for Debdas, he lives in an area that’s teeming with exciting wildlife. The amateur filmmaker regularly captures bisons, snakes, leopards and even rhinos in his videos. As a result, his YouTube channel has clocked up more than 100 million views in just six years.
But of all the animals Debdas has managed to film, none of them capture people’s hearts quite like the elephant. According to conservation organization EleAid, 50 percent to 60 percent of all Asia’s wild elephants live in India. Experts estimate there are between 23,900 and 32,900 throughout the country.
Elephants have been central to the Indian way of life for hundreds of years. They have close links with the country’s cultural and religious heritage. Furthermore, they have played a major part in the country’s history.
However, in recent years, the animal’s future in the region has been far from certain. Asian elephants are currently classified as an endangered species. That’s because their population faces threats.
One of the major threats to India’s elephants is habitat loss. Many of the animals’ natural forest environments have been cleared for development. As a result, many elephants have no appropriate shelter or abundant food supplies.
Another problem facing elephants is the illegal ivory trade. Unlike African elephants, only male Asian elephants have tusks. So every time a hunter kills one for their ivory, it affects the male-female ratio of the species. This in turn makes mating more difficult.
Finally, the third risk to Indian elephants is human conflict. Since the species has lost much of its traditional habitat, animals often roam into farms and settlements in search for food. These raids can destroy smallholdings overnight. As a result, agricultural workers often kill elephants to prevent them from causing damage.
With that in mind, human-elephant relations in India are currently the worst they’ve been in centuries. And in 2016 Debdas filmed an incident that made it look like the ancient bond was broken forever. After years of persecution, it seemed that the elephants were finally fighting back.
Debdas’ footage opened with a normal everyday scene – a man cycling down a road with a shopping bag hung over his handlebar. However, it soon became clear that this was not your average bike ride. Because in the background emerged a gigantic elephant.
As the man on the bike peddled furiously, the mammoth animal began to give chase. It pounded down the concrete behind the cyclist, leaving big clouds of dust in its wake. Understandably, the man was petrified. So with a glance back over his shoulder, he vacated the road as quickly as his legs would take him.
Having seen off the cyclist, the elephant turned around and headed back towards a group of cars that had stopped in the road. For a moment, it looked like she might start on them too. One vehicle even attempted to escape the elephant’s wrath by turning around. However, the driver soon discovered a bus was blocking their path.
However, before she got to the cars, the elephant stopped by the side of the road. Within a matter of seconds, the rest of her herd emerged from the forest, and they proceeded to cross the highway together.
So it seemed that the elephant wasn’t chasing the cyclist away in anger after all. She was simply clearing the road so that her family could cross over to the other side safely. And she’d managed to do that while making minimal fuss in the process.
Debdas’ video provided a unique insight into how elephants and humans live side by side in modern India. And it seemed like people online couldn’t get enough of it. Consequently, since the footage went live in 2016, more than seven million people have tuned in to watch it.
Furthermore, the video attracted more than 400 comments. “This is survival at its best. One mama at the back and one at the lead. Perfect harmony,” one user wrote. “The animal kingdom understands survival and security better than the human race.”
Amazingly, it’s not the first time that wild elephants have displayed this behavior. In fact, it seems that the animals may be more road-savvy than us humans give them credit for. Often, when a herd crosses a road, the adult females stand on the outside and guide their calves across.
The road-crossing ritual isn’t only being performed in India. In 2014 a video emerged on YouTube, which showed a herd of elephants doing the same thing in South Africa. “Notice how the elephant family of the baby elephant stand guard in order for the baby elephant to cross the road safely,” read the accompanying caption.
Watching parents protect their babies, it’s clear to see that humans and elephants have a lot in common. “Elephants love each other deeply. And they absolutely treasure their young,” one YouTube user pointed out. “If we could quit shooting them long enough, we might just be able to learn from them.”