“But why can’t we pet her just once?” She is so impossibly cute it is ridiculous! Shirini’s newborn baby girl Warona. The problem is that she is a 300kg (660 pounds) baby. And at the age of eight months now, she is about as difficult as a human two-year old although no doubt either of my daughters would balk at the indirect comparison. She appears so cute and baby-like and gentle that when you first see her you can’t believe that she is anything other than docile and sweet. However, without warning she can just explode and knock you over flat. You may not even see it coming – either from front or behind. And she is just at the right height to inflict an embarrassing blow to the average male. Unless you have seen her exploding, you will not believe it. But for those who have been on the receiving end of an explosion, or witness to one, will know exactly what I am talking about. Aside from that, she really is very cute and when allowed her own space, she gets so busy exploring the world, copying the leaders of the herd and playing around with her brother and sister as well as being protected by the matriarch Cathy – she is indeed the favourite child for sure.
Some might think that riding elephants is not purist, and there is certainly an argument for that. I can tell you that there absolutely was a time when I held that view very firmly. However, I have to say that I have had the pleasure – and indeed it has been a pleasure – of seeing a change in old systems that have been replaced with more caring ones when it comes to the handling of elephants at Abu. Of course this does not imply that the elephants were never not loved – in fact to the contrary. Everything has always been done with their best interests very much at the fore. But there are always different approaches to things in life and that brings us to the issues of change. A very difficult concept to embrace – for some. If it appears to be working well – why change it, why look to break it? Well, simply because if we did not look to improve ways of doing things, ways of thinking, ways of looking at the world, then we would never evolve ourselves. Just consider the field of medicine as an example.
With that in mind, there are great forward developments at Abu. The elephants are no longer required to “stretch down” to have the saddles put on and then for the guests to rather awkwardly scramble up onto a massive steel and padded saddle that is big enough for a sleep over; but rather the elephants come up to a ramp that is built to their height so that riders can climb the stairs and very comfortably mount a lighter, smaller saddle that you put your feet into stirrups much like a saddle for a horse.
While at one stage in the past, the elephants were restrained with padded chains at certain times of the day, they now a thing of the past. Since the relaunch of Abu chains have been banished and the herd is now free to interact with one another as they choose, and as a result they appear to be psychologically better adjusted as individuals and a herd. Cathy has put on 300 pounds this year which the handlers believe is a sign of happiness and contentment.
The elephants are the main attraction at Abu. You can choose to walk with them or ride them and if you are staying for a four to five days, you get a chance to walk with them and ride either Cathy, Shirini or Kitti. Each elephant gives you a different experience and you have to try it out to understand fully what I am actually saying. You can’t really put in words how it feels to “feel” them communicate amongst themselves. That is something you feel when you are riding the elephants.
When you walking with them, you are humbled by the enormity of standing next to the largest land mammal and at times you can get close enough to place your hand on their huge body and really feel the closeness. Certainly the Abu intention of giving guests in camp an elephant’s eye view of the world is achieved in our interaction with the herd.
Elephants have a sense of humour. I know for sure. One of the late afternoons we were walking back to camp from the bush where the herd had been feeding peacefully for the whole day. The light was soft and gentle, the air was warm and the setting was surreal. The route took us through some rather deepish water. I was riding Cathy who always walks in front as she is the matriarch of the herd. Shirini follows behind. To entertain herself, Shirini took a trunkfull of water in and sprayed it at Cathy! The reaction she got from me made her smile and do it again! Very cute. And refreshing!
But the elephants are not the only attraction at Abu. Certainly this year, compared to when we were here around the same time last year, the game has increased in both number of degree of habituation to humans. We saw a lion pride which had just taken down a roan antelope which is amazing as there are a small herd of about 18 roan in the area. Well, 17 now! We didn’t actually see the herd, but we saw the lions feasting. We also had a wonderful leopard sighting – a beautiful female who climbed a tree for us when we were on a night drive – as well as a large herd of giraffe and one adorable baby that looked just like a cuddly stuffed toy. Lots of wild elephants too as well as territorial baboons that shout out around camp each morning and evening.
While we were at Abu we also had a chance to go fishing, picnicking, and boating. Gentle trips in the late afternoon on mokoro were so special too. So whilst the elephants of Abu are the main attraction, there is actually something for everyone and each day of our week long visit was different and special. A real treat.
We now back in Jo’burg. The paperwork is in and we are now preparing to move to Zimbabwe to live in Victoria Falls. . But for now, we still have the peaceful feeling that you get from fresh memories of wonderful times just spent in the bush!