Gabon, New Year’s Eve, 2002:
She was about seven feet at the shoulder, with sixteen-inch tusks, and weighed two tons. I used to have zero fear. Zero. I could walk up to any elephant I saw. So when she charges, I bluff back, but it doesn’t stop her. I run to get between her and the group I’m with, including my girlfriend. The elephant’s got her head down, ears tucked, doing this kind of shuffle. I’m thinking, I’ve got about a second to stop this thing. She’s thinking, I’m going to kill you. Do I straight-arm her, or do I run? But when she gets within three feet, I take three steps to run and — boom — I trip and hit the ground.
I immediately turn…
She’s already airborne, fucking trying to put her tusks through my chest, so I grab on with both hands and move my body out of the way. She hits the ground. At that moment, tusks planted, her eyeball is four inches from mine. Okay, here we are. Now what?
Then I realize she’s trying to crush me with her body. Elephants do that. My adrenaline is going, so I can’t feel anything, but I can hear — kfoonk — one of my ribs breaking. It’s like one-two-three: In one second, my lungs are going to be squashed, and I’m going to be dead. I’m not feeling any anguish or panic or sorrow. I’m thinking, This is going to be incredible. This is it! But just as she’s about to keel and lose control, she starts getting up. I’ve got more life! I’m not going to die!
A female African forest elephant has tusks like stilettos, with fine, sharp chiseled ends to carve bark. So I’m still holding on, but then she starts trying to stab me, stabbing and stabbing and stabbing, but I won’t — can’t — let go. She’s trying to shake me off to stab me, but I’ve still got her by the tusks, gripped at elbow’s length. It’s like a rodeo guy: I’m gonna hold fucking on until the bell rings. So then I’m getting whipped around like a rag doll. All my girlfriend could see was my body going up above the horizon, up and down. I must have been completely vertical, inverted. A few seconds later, I go flying ten or fifteen feet, vooomp!
When I land on all fours, it’s slow motion; I’m glued to the ground. I think, You idiot, Fay. Those fucking tusks are going to come right through my back.
So I turn around, and she’s gone. Just gone. Did you ever see Pulp Fiction, where the guy shoots at him like six times with a .357, and he doesn’t get hit? That’s basically the feeling. Damn! How did that happen? I’m the happiest guy on the planet.
Then I see the blood. It’s like someone has taken a big old machete and chopped my left bicep open an inch wide and four high. I see tendons, the artery. My other arm starts to itch; it’s punctured through. One kneecap’s sliced wide open, the other leg is gashed above the knee. I feel the blood running down my back. She got me eight times back there. I have no idea how. — Dr. J. Michael Fay, Conservationist; Wildlife Conservation Society and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, as told to Christian DeBenedetti. Originally Published in Esquire, August, 2007