Monday, April 23, 2018

African Post: Day 13 - Walk with the Elephants

Eva and I wanted to ride an elephant when we were in Hazyview at Hippo Hollow Lodge, but they were booked up at the times we could go. Georg had ridden an elephant in Nepal so he passed on repeating the experience. Hmmm, does he know something we don't?

Our guide Julian made reservations for an elephant experience at the Elephant Sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay. We would be there in a week.

Sunset the night before reflects the sea mist blowing in from the ocean.The Kudu horn lighting rods protected us throughout the night.

Today is a rest day in Knysna near Plettenberg Bay, so we went to the elephant sanctuary to see if we could ride. They offer a hands-on experience with elephants. Not only just touching and learning more about this gentle giants, but also a chance to ride them.

The sanctuary believes in using positive reinforcement to develop a gentle elephant 
and friendly with the guests. These animals are all about 20-24 years old.

This is Tandy and her handler, Tsubi

This is Amarula with her handler Patrick.

This guest is learning about the elephants by feeling their hide, 
patting their heads, rubbing their skin.
The skin is quite tough yet pliable. 

Patrick says to get closer and let Amarula get a good look at me.
Guess I passed the eye exam as she didn't slap me with her trunk.

Then I got to feed her by placing food pellets in her trunk/nose, which she would then insert into her mouth and blow the pellets out of the trunk.

Open your mouth Amurula! Trunk up! 
Time for a dental exam.

My what big teeth you have.
 Only the first two long ones are visible, not for biting but for grinding the food. 
Patrick says their are two more further back, but I wasn't about to put my hand in to find them. 

"Want to ride an elephant?" asked Patrick. 
Of course I said YES!

First you have to lead the elephant to the riding area. That is done by standing in front of the elephant with your back to her. Insert two fingers into her trunk and walk, leading her along. 

In Amarula's case, since her trunk was injured in an accident, you lead her by tilting your palm up behind you, let Amarula place her rolled trunk in your palm and you walk, she follows. 

Amarula kneels so Patrick can place a blanket on her back. That is the saddle.
I ask if we get on old west cowboy style? Run and jump on from the back?

Patrick, says No, as he climbs on from the side. 
"You go climb the loading platform. From there you can swing a leg over her back".

The handlers maneuver the elephants close to the stand.

Once on, the ride is smoother than riding a horse.  A gentle rocking rolling movement. 
Their back is so broad you do not feel like you might slide off. 

Thank God the elephants didn't want to go swimming while we were riding. 

The learning experience was fantastic. Thank you Patrick and all the friendly people we met at the Elephant Sanctuary. 

Another line item is checked off the ole bucket list.

Back in Knysna, we spotted an African Sacred Ibis looking for food in the mud flats while the tide was out. Prawns? The mudflats are a nursery for shellfish.

The Ibis are wading birds with a long beak for working down deep where the food is buried. 

Now how does it know where to insert its beak when the food is not visible?

Then we saw a human doing the same thing. He would walk along, looking for a sign. 
When he found it, he would insert a long aluminum tube into the mud.

With the tube still in the mud, he pulled up on a plunger inside the tube, 
sucking up whatever was in the mud.

Then he would pulled the tube out and push down on the plunger, expelling 
whatever was sucked up deep in the mud. 

Must not have found much, as we didn't see him pick up anything for his efforts.

Tomorrow we are back on the road.



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