KOH PHANGAN, Thailand –Plenty of tourists have snapped a selfie of themselves posing with an elephant during their travels. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has done it. But how many have had their photo taken by the elephant? Christian LeBlanc, a 22-year-old Canadian, found himself the subject of an extraordinary “elphie” on a Thai island earlier this year.
“My girlfriend and I were exploring the island when we came across a couple elephants,” he told CNN by email. “For 50 cents, you could buy a basket of bananas to feed them, so we decided to get one.”
The elephant LeBlanc was feeding decided what was on offer wasn’t enough and started ferreting for more food with its trunk.
“Next thing I knew, it grabbed my GoPro by the mount and I got the selfie of a lifetime, which I can’t take full credit for,” he said.
Elephant was ‘very playful’
LeBlanc’s GoPro, a mountable sports camera, was set to shoot continuously, so it captured the view from the elephant’s trunk. But he’s not ruling out the possibility that the beast knew what it was doing.
“Elephants are incredibly intelligent, and it definitely makes you wonder if it was a conscious action,” he said.
The photo was taken on the island of Koh Phangan about two months ago, but it has picked up attention online and also from the international media in recent days.
The photographically inclined elephant, meanwhile, remains something of a mystery.
“I know nothing about the actual elephant other than its love for selfies,” LeBlanc said. “Its personality was very playful and it clearly had a craving for bananas because it devoured them.”
Not the first ‘elphie’ on record
LeBlanc had been studying abroad in Bangkok before he and his girlfriend embarked on their travels. This was his first encounter with an elephant.
“At first, I was a little cautious of its size,” he told CNN. “However, a few minutes in, I realized that despite its power, the elephant was relatively gentle. I got comfortable enough that I let my guard down and let it grab my GoPro.”
His photo is unusual, but not the first elphie on record.
Last year, an elephant at a safari park in the United Kingdom reportedly snapped a selfie with a phone dropped by a visitor.
Issues surrounding animal photos
When an animal takes a photo, it throws up thorny issues about who has copyright over the image, as David J. Slater discovered after a selfie taken with his camera by an Indonesian macaque went viral.
Some photos of tourists posing with cute creatures, like pop star Rihanna’s encounter in Thailand with an endangered primate, have prompted warnings from wildlife activists about the abusive treatment of what they call “photo-prop” animals.
LeBlanc, meanwhile, has moved on to the Philippines and taken his animal selfie game underwater, capturing himself in the same frame as a whale shark, the largest species of fish in the world.
CNN’s Ben Brumfield contributed to this report.