Sunday, 6 January 2013

We visit Knysna Elephant Park on day 4 of our Garden route holiday

I love animals. But on Day 4 of our holiday, when Mo informed us that he wanted to take us to the Knysna Elephant Park, I was a bit reluctant. It was a hot day, and for me, the summer holidays - especially to that part of the world - signified long lovely days on beautiful beaches enjoying the temperate waters of the Indian Ocean.

Upon arrival at the Elephant Park, we got the opportunity to examine a few exhibits...

Part of elephant ear

 ...after which we spent a few minutes listening to a very short, but interesting presentation. We were cautioned as to the do's and don'ts to which we had to adhere in order to ensure our safety, with our guide wisely informing us that although the elephants were well-trained, they remained wild animals and had to be respected as such.

The guide showed us where the elephants sleep. They are kept in these enclosures for their own safety, since there is a strong chance that they will find their way to the neighbouring farms to feed on the fruit grown there. Needless to say, should that happen, the consequences will be dire for all involved. But he assured us that the elephants are very comfortable sleeping in these enclosures, as is evident from the fact that they actually spend a few hours per night lying down while sleeping. (In the wild, elephants usually sleep standing up, which is a protective mechanism they possess to ensure that they are always ready in the event of danger). Also, in these enclosures they are assured of adequate food, as they are fed throughout the night. In addition, buckets of fruit are lowered from above, within reach of each respective elephant. How clever!

After being driven into the veld we were divided into groups and assigned to guides, to whom we would listen and who would, in turn, be responsible for our safety.

The elephants were lined up behind a horizontal bar, from where they would be fed - by us. We were told not to feed any elephant who stepped from behind the bar, as they had to be taught that they were only to be fed by visitors while behind that bar.

Also, we were cautioned not bend down to pick up any food which may fall out of our buckets, as the elephant would most likely send one hurtling through the air with just one swoop with its muscular trunk; most probably resulting in injury.

I was very keen to experience feeding time. My kids, however, were less keen. Shakeel (13) eventually agreed to join me in this wonderful experience, while Tharaa (11) and Nuha (8) hid behind us, visibly terrified. Aisha (3) clung to me and twisted her body away from the elephant each time I went closer to place the food near its trunk. Mo's excuse was that he was capturing the entire experience on camera, so was unable to join us.

Left: I timidly hand the elephant a fruit from our bucket

Shakeel's turn to feed the elephants

A terrified Aisha wriggles and writhes, trying to get as far from the elephants as possible

What an incredible feeling! My heart raced as they slurped up the fruit from my palm leaving my entire hand covered in slime and goo. I would love to do that again.

Later we walked among the elephants, with our guides ensuring that everyone was safe and abiding by the rules.


 However the wonderful guides were also really concerned that we were all getting the maximum benefit and enjoyment from the experience. They coaxed scared children, encouraging them to touch the baby elephants.
Tharaa eventually agreed to stroke the baby elephant
Nuha (under Shakeel's protection)

I have to commend our guide for all his efforts in trying to get my terrified girls to bond with the elephants.

We were surprised by the texture of the tail hairs

My brave son

The guides also took photos of the various families and groups, ensuring that no-one was left out.

And then it was over. I was absolutely blown away by the experience. Never again will I view these gentle giants the same way. I'm glad my children were so affected by the part of the presentation which focused on the need to protect these majestic creatures in order to ensure their survival for centuries to come.

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