Before leaving America, I asked friends and family to create a list of tasks to complete during my time in South Africa. This post is dedicated to Jessica and Tabitha who both thought it was important that I ride on top of an elephant while here.
The Elephant Sanctuary:
We decided to take a day trip to the Elephant Sanctuary, located in Hartbeespoortdam, a short drive from Pretoria (http://www.elephantsanctuary.co.za/). A group of us booked the tour a day in advance and headed down early in the morning.
Once we arrived, our guide took us to a small seating area and began a lecture about all things related to elephants. We learned about anatomy, how elephants arrive at the sanctuary, and how expensive it is to maintain elephants (among other things). The guide was very knowledgeable and kept the talk entertaining.
Next, we followed the guide to an interactive experience where we watched the elephants show off by shaking their heads and trumpeting. Everyone that spoke to us wanted to emphasize that the sanctuary is not the circus. They do work with elephants and a few know tricks, but in general, they do not like to work with the animals in that way. Mostly, they train animals to do things that highlight their anatomy in order to educate the visitors that come into the park. They also respect the elephants, and if the animals do not feel like putting on a show, they do not require them to participate. After we learned a bit about the elephants we were about to meet, the guides allowed us to go in two at a time to touch them.
I don’t think Hayden realized until we were up close how large the elephants were and got kind of afraid to touch them at first.
The highlight of my experience was going back in to get a kiss from the elephant. His trunk was so dirty and wet that it left a huge spot on my cheek, but I loved it!
I got cleaned up (it really was sloppy!) and met the group up a trail to feed an elephant. We all took turns placing food in the animals trunk. Natalie LOVED this part! She kept going back for handfuls. Hayden also mustered some bravery and participated.
After the feeding, the tour was technically over, however, anyone 9 and older could go and pay more money for a chance to ride the elephants. Knowing that I was required to complete this before leaving Africa, I jumped at the opportunity. Challenge 13, you have been completed!
Love from South Africa and the Elephant Sanctuary!