The truck arrived at 6 AM. Gareth and I were bleary-eyed, but excited, for we were about to go on an elephant-back safari within a private concession of the Victoria Falls National Park. After a dusty 30 minute drive we arrived at the camp where we were introduced to the other tourists who would join us on the safari: another South African couple, three visitors from France of which only one could speak English, and three elderly Americans. The group stood around a log fire, warming hands against tin cups of tea or coffee, getting to know each other. By the time we’d had breakfast, we all felt like old friends. I had even had the opportunity to dust off my university French with the lady, who once she found out I understood her, talked non-stop about all the places she had recently visited in Africa. It was a good start to the morning.
And then the stars of the show arrived – the elephants. We had to walk up a large ramp from which we could get onto an elephant’s back. The guide sat in front, me in the middle, and Gareth at the rear. And then we were off!
As the group of elephants lumbered through the bushveld, our guide told us that all their elephants were orphans, either from poaching or veld fires, and the safaris were a way of funding their keep. He entertained us with interesting facts about our mounts, and pointed out noteworthy trees and plants and small animals along the way, perfectly fulfilling the role of game ranger and animal handler at the same time. We didn’t see much wildlife on this particular trip, only a solitary sable antelope, but our guide’s conversation and the chance to appreciate nature from the back of Minos, the friendliest elephant ever, was more than enough to make the trip worthwhile.
We were given the chance to interact with our elephant when we arrived back at camp. Gareth volunteered to be my photographer while I fed Minos peanuts and chunks of a special elephant food mix that looked a lot like dog food pellets. I held the snacks in my hand and the elephant used his trunk to vacuum them up and then spurt them into his mouth. By the time he’d had enough to eat, I was covered in goo and was thoroughly familiar with the feel of its rough, bristly skin and sandpaper tongue!
Enamoured by our playful mount, we wanted to contribute to his protection and upkeep, so Gareth and I bought a print of Minos’ footprint on recycled elephant dung paper – I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it, but it serves as a perfect reminder of an extraordinary encounter with one of nature’s beautiful gentle giants.
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