Staying with our theme of elephants I wanted to share more experiences I had with these giant animals while on my recent trip to Africa. During the trip we saw hundreds of elephants. Most of these sightings were in Kruger National Park, given that Kruger is so overpopulated with them this seems to be redundant to point out. Even the first elephants of our trip were located in a reserve connected to Kruger (several years ago Kruger and several surrounding reserves dropped their border fences to create a larger area for wildlife to roam).

Our first sighting was in the Balule Game Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger Park, on a game walk. We were hiking through Big 5 areas with professional guides when we spotted a group of elephants feeding. It took us several attempts to get to them but eventually we found ourselves less than 30 yards from the huge creatures. Being that closeto them, close enough to hear their ears flap, was a humbling experience. To be that close makes you realize just how small we really are. At that point in time I could not imagine what it would be like to get even closer to them.

 

However, towards the end of our trip we visited an elephant park near Thabazimbi where we had the opportunity to actually interact with elephants. First we were given a quick talk about how they got into the business of raising elephants and how they train them. After that we were allowed to give the elephants treats, take pictures with them, and even give them a few commands. Before that day I would have never thought I would have the opportunity to play soccer with an elephant. One of the bulls had a soccer ball he liked to kick around, and he would kick it back to you if you kicked it to him.

Once we had a chance to meet all of their elephants and interact with them we went for a ride on their backs. During the ride the owner wanted to demonstrate how elephants could be used to track people, which could possibly be helpful in fighting against the rhino poaching problem.  Three of our group, including my wife, left early to leave a scent trail. After giving them a 10-15 minute head start we rode out in search of them. It took the elephants less than five minutes to catch up to them, even though the handlers would not let them move faster than a normal walking pace. I can’t imagine a poacher being able to escape from an elephant that was allowed to move faster.

The whole trip was an experience of a lifetime. From the people we were traveling with to the interaction with Africa’s incredible wildlife we couldn’t have asked for anything better. On the backs of these gentle giants I was reminded of why I decided to go into the field of wildlife conservation.

 

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