How Fast Can an Elephant Run? Top Speed & Other Facts

August 19, 2021

“An elephant never forgets” is a popular saying. But one never really associates elephants with speed.

These giants of the animal world are gentle and you wouldn’t think that they could run given their size and weight. It’s hard to imagine something of that scale running at speed.

An elephant safari in Africa is the best way to view these gentle giants of the African plains. Imagine sitting out there on safari in the Serengeti as a majestic elephant walks past. Then a few things flash through your mind… just how fast can an elephant run? Could you outrun the elephant that’s staring you down at the moment?

With all these questions in mind, let’s have a look at if elephants can run or if it is more of an elephant march.

elephants in grass plains

Do Elephants Run?

Elephants walking grandly through the wild witnessed from afar in an African landscape; this is what is generally thought of when someone mentions elephants.

Although elephants can move at quite a pace, can they actually run?

An Elephant (“Huge Arch” in Latin), is the largest land mammal in the world. Despite their size, they are relatively nimble animals and can walk almost 200km per day, although they usually average around 25km. For the best chance to experience these magnificent wanderers in their habitat and provide memories that, just like an elephant, you will never forget you can embark on this safari adventure.

With all that in mind, let’s get to the question of if elephants can run. The answer to that is yes..kind of. This study, if you wanted to be strict and go by the definition of running, suggests that they can’t run. This is since all their feet never leave the ground at the same time. But elephants do seem to bounce which is the biomechanical definition of running.

I guess you could say then that elephants are the speed walkers of the animal world.

elephant on safari

How Fast Does an Elephant Run?

From planning a dream safari trip but thought to check up a few facts on elephants just in case or maybe bragged to friends that you could definitely outrun an elephant and you’re here for answers. Now onto the main question at hand and the reason why you’re here.

Top Speed of an Elephant

Picture being on a safari tour, witnessing all varieties of animals, and marveling at the spectacles of lions or cheetahs running and then coming upon a humble elephant. The casual walker who takes their time and is never in a rush. But what would happen if it found itself in a sticky situation, would they be able to run away?

So just how fast is an elephant? This has been somewhat of a mystery for some time with estimates being as low as 10mph and others being as high as 40mph. This study shows that the top speed of an elephant is 15mph.

The walking speed of an elephant however is a mere 5mph, slow enough to witness Dumbo and other walking elephants in all their beauty.

Although, another study concluded that elephants would be capable of a top speed of 373mph if the scaling of size and speed was linear. In simple terms, because of the size of an elephant, the energy and time needed to attain that speed keep them from reaching it.

elephant closeup

How Fast is an Elephant

We all have that thought, “I can outrun an elephant if it ran towards me, they are too big and too slow to keep up with us”. Sorry to break it to you but even as small and nimble as we are, humans cannot outrun an elephant, not even with a little zig-zag pattern.

Elephants are deceptively agile with a vast amount of fast-twitch muscles enabling them to generate force quickly and change direction quickly. A trade-off of these twitch muscles though is that they also tire very easily.

If an elephant can run 15mph, the average human can also only run 15mph. So unless you are Usain Bolt who can reach a top speed of 27mph, you might have a bit of a hard time trying to shake off an elephant. Although you don’t have to be faster than the elephant, just faster than the people around you.

baby elephant and mother

Stampeding Elephant

An elephant stampede is not something that you really want to be caught in the middle of but is truly something to behold from afar. A group of stampeding elephants is both a terrifying and adrenaline-filled experience and you would be forgiven for thinking that they’re running.

What they do has been called “Groucho running”, named after a weird crouched walk of Groucho Marx. This means the elephants bend their limbs slightly, in a pendulum-like motion, in order to move their bodies more smoothly.

So even a stampeding elephant isn’t technically running, just walking at a much higher pace. Although it most certainly looks like they are going a lot faster than they are within that spectacle.

They are a little more apprehensive of vehicles and people as of late, given the number of poachers that have been after the elephant tusks. Mothers are also extremely protective of their children. So baby elephants, although cute, are something to give a wide berth of, as the overprotective mother will be around somewhere.

Elephants are known for their trumpet sounds but there are also some other equally fascinating elephant sounds that you should be aware of and what they mean.

elephants at sunset

How Fast Can Elephants Run? Final Thoughts

This has been debated for years on if elephants can run or how fast is an elephant and it would seem that this debate will continue to go on until a day where there is a way to determine it. This is always going to be a challenge given the sheer size of an elephant and how they would probably crush anything you put underneath them.

There are those who say they run and those who say that they walk but the only way to know for sure for yourself is to book a safari tour and witness an elephant in its home.

You can be the judge on how fast an elephant can run.


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