After our arrival at Antelope Park in the evening the day before, today meant that we had that rarest of things on a safari, a lie in. Yippee! We woke up excited as today was the day of our trip where we finally got to meet some of Africa’s finest wildlife, not before breakfast with Freddie and the gang first though of course. Our first activity that Mum and I chose to do, along with some of the others of our group, was interacting with the elephants. Antelope Park rescued 4 adult elephants, 3 females and one male, from drought who now reside amongst the park’s 6000 hectares and when not interacting for a short time with human visitors are free to roam this area at their leisure. Each has a keeper ensuring they are well fed and looked after and whilst staying at the park guests can get to meet these wonderful creatures.
Our activity began at 9am where we bundled ourselves into a safari vehicle with our friendly member of staff who drove us the short distance to where the elephants were waiting for us. As we approached we could see each elephant in a wooden pen patiently awaiting our arrival. Both myself, Mum, Kathy and Dave brimmed with excitement and couldn’t wait to get better acquainted with these most intriguing of mammals.
We hopped off the jeep and sat down whilst each keeper explained about the elephant they looked after, their age, temperament etc. and they showed us a little of their abilities. Elephants are incredibly intelligent, emotional beings and very akin to humans in that respect. Perhaps that’s why we find them so fascinating? Each elephant was thrown a football which they kicked back to their keeper and also threw back with their trunks. Did you know that elephants are either right or left footed, just like we are with our hands? Amazing. One was left footed and when she kicked the ball across to her counterpart, she was right-footed. The action of kicking the ball mimics the digging they do searching for water during the dry season.
After their short display of skills, we were allowed to choose an elephant that we wanted to interact with. We chose one of the females who was almost as old as me at 28 years. We were given a generous handful of some sort of maize pellets to which there was no doubt in her mind of what we had. Her trunk was straight over investigating greedily and searching for those crunchy snacks! As we deposited the pellets into the end of her trunk, we petted her and got a feel of what her skin was like which was very thick and pretty rough with sparse, coarse dark hairs protruding from it all over. However, on the front of her trunk it felt smooth despite the ridged appearance. The end of the trunk, as you can imagine, is pretty snotty! What a weird and wonderful thing it is though, it seems to have a mind of its own and be a separate entity from the large mass of grey body and head that it is attached to. How odd! I couldn’t help but wonder what elephants think about being as intelligent as they are: how does she see me, as a friend? As a foe? Does she feel the searing African sun on her skin as intensely as I do? Does she have family somewhere that were perhaps killed by the drought and that she now misses? The answers lie behind those beautiful amber eyes framed by thick velvety lashes and wrinkly grey skin.
One of my favourite shots from the entire trip, look at those lashes!
It’s important to remember the weight and strength of an adult elephant. If she wanted to, she could easily cause me considerable injury or worse, flatten me. However, unperturbed, we carried on completely fascinated and in awe of this colossal yet mesmerising being. For both Mum and I this was a dream come to fruition. After years and years of watching documentaries, we finally got to meet one of our favourite animals in the most up close and personal manner possible. Better yet, we were about to go for a ride on her back! And so started the second activity of our day, an elephant ride…
We drove a couple of hundred metres towards a tree that had a wooden staircase adjacent to it. We were informed that in order to help us get onto the elephant we would climb the staircase and ‘board’ from there. Just as well, elephants are bloody high up! The keeper goes on first at the front, Mum went in the middle (after much shunting from me and grunting from Mum) then I was at the back armed with my ever-present SLR camera and iPhone for snaps and videos, naturally.
Being atop an elephant is like being atop a horse – albeit a very wide and very tall one! The best thing to do is to wedge her spine between your cheeks..! and relax your body, moving in time with the motion and try not to get too hung up on hanging on. We were off and ambled around the surrounding area for almost an hour taking in the dry, savannah like environment and neighbouring herds of impala.
I should also note here that the elephants are not subject to any forms of cruelty from their keepers. If they were, this is not an activity that I would have willingly participated in especially after seeing so many distressing videos online of the poor elephants in places like Thailand who are used and abused. These elephants only interact with humans for a very short time and the rest they are allowed to roam freely around the large expanse that is Antelope Park (you will see this in a future post). The elephant gets a slight tap on either side of her to indicate the direction we wanted to go…not that she needed much convincing as she trotted along at one point to catch up with the others. When they pick up speed it’s an idea to hold on! Also, our elephant (I, frustratingly, have totally forgotten her name) was particularly greedy and her keeper informed us that she always walks at the back in the event that her friends drop any of their snacks she would then recover them. Greedy indeed! She also presented us with a couple of stones that she picked up off the ground in exchange for treats . Food, it would seem, is at the forefront of an elephant’s mind. Well, they are rather large and have a big belly to fill…no wonder they eat for 18 hours a day…Wouldn’t it be great if we could eat for 18 hours a day and not pile on the pounds?! Anyway, I digress…
So after the elephant ride it was time to head back to the main camp area and catch up with the others and take a quick rest before we started our second round of activities for the day. This time, with the one animal we probably associate most with the great continent that is Africa – lions.
Keep reading to find out what it was like to walk with lions and watch the adult males at feeding time…