My Facebook feed is full of animal videos. I can’t resist watching the antics of cats, dogs, birds and any other critter that does something interesting. Makes me smile any time of the day. For a while I followed The Dark Side of Nature on Instagram, but had to stop because I couldn’t handle watching animals killing each other in gruesome ways. (It was a hyena grabbing a wildebeest by the testicles and pulling that put me over the edge.) But videos of elephants are, for me, the best of them all. Watching mothers protect babies, or bulls scaring off lions are just entrancing. These giant animals are smart, fierce and full of love.
Getting to walk amongst them in South Africa was a unique kind of thrill that I wish everyone could experience. Rafael and I took part in an afternoon program with rescued elephants in Knysna, South Africa. Knysna is in the southern part of the country, near Plettenberg Bay, on the Garden Route. A short distance from the main road is the Knysna Elephant Park, home to rescued African elephants. These elephants are orphaned, or from a circus or zoo, or in need of a new home for a variety of reasons. There are wide open fields for them to roam and piles of tree limbs for them to munch on. Here they are protected and cared for. When we visited, there were 10 elephants in the herd, which makes it one of the largest domesticated herds in the country.
Elephants are not naturally so gentle around humans. While we are on safari in Kwa Zulu Natal, in the north eastern part of South Africa, we see truly wild elephants. The guide has a healthy respect for their size and strength. If an elephant decides you have gotten too close, look out! Being charged by an adult elephant is a scary experience. Even when you are in a jeep! You watch them take down a tree with ease, to get to the parts they want to eat. You hear them crashing through the brush before you see them. You cannot help but recognize their dominance over their surroundings.
The Knysna elephants are different. Because they have been rescued, they are trained to live together in a large group, with human interaction. This allows visitors to follow along with them when they take their morning and afternoon walks around the fields. Up close, you see their long eyelashes, leathery skin and soft trunk. Food is taken from your hand with a soft brush of their lips.
We meander through the field at their pace, relaxed and at ease. The sun is low in the sky and the field is quiet. It’s a time to reflect on the wonder around you and the beauty of this amazing creature. To make a wish that humans will do what they need to do to protect and preserve elephants and all the other animals who roam the earth with us.
Can I do this adventure?
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.
Courage Level: 1 This is not high adventure! As long as you’re not afraid of elephants, you will be just fine.
Fitness Level: 1 If you can walk through a field, you can do this. It is not, unfortunately, handicap accessible.
Do I need special gear? No. Although it is best to follow the instructions that tell you to wear long pants. There was a whole crew of young people who did not follow this rule, and ended up with very itchy legs from the high grass in places.