I always knew elephants were remarkable animals but I never paid much attention to them. I’ve always been very interested in and fascinated by predators, like wolves and their African equivalent, the African wild dog. But a couple of years back there was a documentary on tv where a camera hidden in a fake pile of dung was filming a group of elephants from “the inside”. I was gobsmacked and both cried and laughed out loud when watching their advanced everyday life. I so wish I could find that documentary and watch it again!
Since then elephants have sneakily made their way into my life, without my noticing almost. It hit me the other day and I quickly browsed the apartment for elephant things. I found quite a few.
When were in Zimbabwe about half a year ago I was fortunate enough to get acquainted with these animals in real life and up close. We were offered to go on an elephant safari. I hesitated at first since I don’t believe in domesticating wild animals for tourism. But I was convinced that the money that tourism brings in help finance important projects in the area, one being getting the community to understand the elephants’ value and not poach them.
We headed out on an early morning and spent almost an hour walking around in the bush. We didn’t see any wild animals, but we did spot leopard tracks in the mud. It was a great feeling sitting on such an enormous animal and I couldn’t help but seeing the similarities between the elephant, Miss Ellie, and the horse I ride twice a week. They both seemed to be head strong females who can’t be tricked into doing something they don’t feel like doing. And they like to eat. A lot. All the time.
After the ride we got to spend some time with the ellies on the ground which was almost an even more amazing experience. I’d sit on Miss Ellie’s lap and she’d put her gigantic head on my shoulder, while putting her trunk in my face over and over again to convince me to give her treats. However fast I worked, I couldn’t seem to get those treats coming fast enough for her. It took me some time to get used to their incredibly thick skin and the long black hairs standing out, but Brian was of course in his comfort zone and cuddled his elephant Lundi like he’d done nothing else before.
It was truly an amazing experience. I still don’t support the use of wild animals for tourism but when it’s done in a respectful way, sometimes a few specimen can represent and help save the rest of the species. I’m very happy I did it once and I still think of Miss Ellie and Lundi once in a while.
Then I bought a book at the airport coming back from Africa last time. I hadn’t heard about it or the author, but it had a cute elephant on the front and got my attention, so I bought it. I’m so happy I did!
The book was written by Lawrence Anthony, who runs the Thula Thula game ranch in South Africa. He was asked to take on a herd of “problem elephants”, who were causing their current ranch trouble and were threatened to be shot if nobody took care of them instantly. Lawrence naturally hesitated, how do you handle a group of wild elephants to begin with, angry and stressed on top of that? But he followed his gut feeling and had the elephants transported to Thula Thula.
The next few years he managed to make them feel at home and they developed an amazing bond. The stories he tells you in the book, of life and death within the group, advanced communication methods, emotional moments and an almost psychic skill among the elephants, can’t possibly leave anyone untouched. You also get to read about the other animals on the ranch, what it’s like running a game ranch with poaching and other challenges and about Lawrence’s cooperation with the outside community to gain their trust and respect for the work with animals in order to keep saving them.
There is no doubt elephants are highly intelligent, sensitive and extraordinary animals. I’m going to look into visiting Thula Thula when we get to South Africa and see if I can meet with Lawrence and the ellies!