“I was completely blind by the way. My optic nerve had been bounced off. I couldn’t see a goddamn thing. I had a huge hole in my leg, went right through here. And my hip was broken in seven or eight places.” – Peter Beard
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. So in an age when people in the modern world, and the world is divided between people who don’t know you at all, people who know you as a photographer and the writer of these books and this adventurer and so forth. They know you as a famous socialite, if you will. They know you as all these things and then there’s young kids who surf the Internet, who you know that you’re the guy that got crushed by the elephant on YouTube.
Peter Beard: The idiot.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. What was different that day from every other day?
Peter Beard: That day we were out there, we had no security, no gun.
Alec Baldwin: It was 1996, Peter was helping a friend who was opening up a safari camp.
Peter Beard: We were basically on a picnic. We’d done a promotional shooting. Suddenly, like 15 elephants came over the hill, a cow heard. You know like they are, you don’t get bulls at that stage. And it was on the very edge. It’s another population story. It was on the edge of Tanzania, Quokka Mountain and elephants come in and grab a cabbage at night and they get shot. So I’m sure this is a herd that had been shot up, but they were very skittish.
Alec Baldwin: So they take the bullet and keep moving. They don’t go down. They just shoot ’em to scare ’em.
Peter Beard: No, they take the bullet and move. Yeah. Doesn’t do any harm.
Alec Baldwin: Doesn’t hurt ’em.
Peter Beard: Well, the way they shoot at night you know big black thing there, bam and you just have a lot of wounding. And this female gave us a demo, which is totally normal. We ran back, I was in long pants, early morning wet grass. The elephants went back up the hill so to speak and we just stood there. The sons of bitch, this matriarch came again. So then she starts coming, we start running again, make it feel happy. But it wasn’t stopping. [Laughter] And I lucked into the elephant on an ant hill.
Alec Baldwin: And the thing just head-butted you.
Peter Beard: Well, no, no, no. It was many things. I was up in the air and down.
“So anyway, there was an amazing gaping hole and there was no blood coming out of it by the way, but I couldn’t see it. I got splintered hips. I didn’t get speared, ’cause I couldn’t see the thing.” – Peter Beard
Alec Baldwin: Oh, it mauled you.
Peter Beard: And the guy with the camera took off. I think we’d run far enough so that it knew we weren’t dangerous. The herd came around. The heard was you know [snorting], sniffing. It was actually almost worth it.
Alec Baldwin: That should have been the title of the book, “Almost worth it.”
Peter Beard: I was completely blind by the way. My optic nerve had been bounced off. I couldn’t see a goddamn thing. I had a huge hole in my leg, went right through here. And my hip was broken in seven or eight places.
Alec Baldwin: At this point by the way in the interview I want to mention Beard is hiking up his shorts –
Peter Beard: [Laughter]
Alec Baldwin: – and showing me –
Peter Beard: Especially wore his shorts for tonight.
Alec Baldwin: – and showing me, in the inner most portion of his thigh, the closest area to his actual personality itself is this hideous gash, this hole in his leg.
Peter Beard: So anyway, there was an amazing gaping hole and there was no blood coming out of it by the way, but I couldn’t see it. I got splintered hips. I didn’t get speared, ’cause I couldn’t see the thing.
Alec Baldwin: But did you think when that happened, did you think that was it?
Peter Beard: When I was running, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: You thought that was it?
Peter Beard: Well, you can’t escape an elephant.
Alec Baldwin: You thought that was the end.
Peter Beard: Yep.
Alec Baldwin: And did you think ‘How romantic?’
Peter Beard: No, I thought –
Alec Baldwin: You thought ‘Fuck.’
Peter Beard: [Laughter] No, I just felt like an idiot.
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(All rights reserved. Text @ WYNC. Images @ Peter Beard.)