Dan Gets Knocked Up, or Around, by an Elephant
Part of our time on the continent of Africa was spent on the Garden Route in South Africa. Honestly, we found so much to do in that short stretch of road between Hermanus and Plettenberg that we could have stayed much longer. Penguins, wolves, monkeys, parrots and elephants were some of the wonderful critters we visited and I do like my critters!
The highlight of this adventure had to have been our stay at Knysna Elephant Park. This large, beautiful property is home to a herd of 8 elephants presently and they have been able to move over 30 additional ellies to other reserves or facilities. There are no fences here, the herd is free to roam and mingle with visitors.
They offer a variety of surprisingly affordable ways to interact with their herd. We chose ALL of them! They have 6 rooms on site that are safari chic and very comfortable. The best part is that the communal living room is above, and open air, to the boma where the elephants can choose to sleep. Dan actually heard them snoring our second evening there and we were able to go out and watch (and listen to) them sleeping. Where does an elephant sleep? Anywhere it wants to!
Lodge guests and day visitors have a couple ways to interact with the herd, and the fees help support the work they do there. You can get on a shuttle bus and go out to the herd and watch them. For a small donation you can get a bucket of fruits and veggies to take with you and feed them, and then you get to hang out with them for about an hour. Hotel guests may do this as often as they like, paying only for the food buckets. The other option is to walk them from their evening site out to grazing area in the morning, or back again in the evening. Yes, you can walk an elephant!
Our first day we arrived at about 2 to check in and prepare for the evening walk with the ellies. We were taken out to the herd and each assigned a keeper and an elephant to accompany back to their evening area. The first experience of being with an elephant with no barriers between you is mind blowing! I had the surreal experience of walking beside a huge elephant who chose to reach out and hold my hand with her trunk.
We got them over to the area where keepers had left large piles of apparently yummy branches for them to decimate and reluctantly took our leave so we could settle into our room and get some dinner. Already the experience had surpassed all expectations.
That evening we were able to relax in the lovely room and spend as much time checkout the boma as we wanted.
The next morning after breakfast overlooking the reserve we chose to take the shuttle out to the herd armed with big buckets of yummy produce. Quite a few people do this but the elephants were happy to interact with anyone with food so the number of people was not an issue. The herd comes enthusiastically up to a rail and visitors stay behind it to keep things orderly. Feeding them is an absolute delight!
You couldn’t help but giggle and marvel at their deftness with the trunk. They were enthusiastic, but strangely gentle about taking the proffered treats.
After the buckets were emptied they begin to amble off to graze. We were free to stay with them, not touching them and staying out of their way. Their keepers kept a close eye on everyone and happily shared insight into the herd’s behavior, history and anecdotes. Too soon it was time to return to the interpretation center. As guests of the lodge the keeper we befriended, Berry, offered to allow us to remain with the herd and have fresh buckets sent out to us with each new arriving shuttle.
This allowed us to spend more time around elephants just being elephants, which was fantastic. On our last bucket Berry helped us get a good picture of an elephant’s mouth.
After several magical hours with our new friends a big storm came in. Since there was heavy rain and lightning the elephant visit was terminated, but not before we all got soaked and unwisely stood under a metal roofed shelter. Dan added to his quickly becoming impressive list of animals that have misbehaved with him ( bitten by the camel I was riding, horse in Mexico tried to buck him off…) and had this happen while he was posing with this impressive trio…
That was the matriarch of the herd that he probably fed 10 pounds of watermelon. He believes she wanted more.
2 nights and 3 days of visiting the herd flew by and I am not ashamed to say that I cried when we left them to continue our adventures on the Garden Route. We vowed to return some day.