Anyone who knows me will know about my big love for the gentle giants that roam our earth. Elephants embody a tender and peaceful spirit. These immensely powerful animals have always fascinated me.
During my research for driving the Garden Route in South Africa I stumbled across The Elephant Sanctuary. Nestled within The Crags in Plettenberg Bay on the Western Cape and less than a ten minute drive from where we were staying at Hog Hollow Lodge, it didn’t take long for me to book a visit.
The Elephant Sanctuary rehabilitates abused, overworked and abandoned elephants with the aim of ultimately releasing them into the wild. Unfortunately for some of the elephants this will never be as they simply wouldn’t survive in the wild, which makes The Elephant Sanctuary their retirement home.
The rare chance to interact with these magnificent creatures through touch, feeding and walking was too great an opportunity to miss. My love for elephants has inevitably rubbed off on my girls too, who were both giddy with excitement when they realised what was in store.
On arrival we were introduced to our fantastic guide Patrick who gave us a quick tour of the elephants sleeping quarters before heading out to the fields to meet them. I was almost in tears when they described the state the elephants arrived in at the sanctuary. Fearful and scared they initially had to sleep with their guides in the stables to slowly help build up their confidence and crushed spirit. It showed the great love, care and respect they’re now showered with which is wonderful. We were filled with further anticipation when told the names, ages and special characteristics of the three African elephants.
My heart actually skipped a beat when we finally saw the elephants. Up close Marula, Thandi and Jabu were so impressive. Most of us have seen elephants at zoos, but standing in such close proximity to these gentle giants is just amazing.
My girls were fascinated by their stories and the biology lesson in anatomy that followed. We all had the chance to touch their very rough, mud encrusted skin, look into their mouths, rub their trunks, tusks and incredibly velvety skin behind their huge ears.
On the way back from the forest we all had an opportunity to walk ‘hand in truck’ with these humongous animals. We were shown how to hold out our hands so the elephants could gently place their trunks in. Mr S led the way showing his girls how to do it like a pro.
It was an incredibly proud moment for us to watch our girls confidently lead the elephants out of the forest. Fearless and taking it all in their stride.
Soon it was my turn. After seeing Radha and Asha’s wet, mucous filled hands I was suddenly worried about my intermittent skin condition on my right hand. I’d cleverly forgotten to bring my steroid cream on holiday, so it had been further exacerbated with cracked skin. So, when my name was called for my once in a lifetime tactile moment with Jabu, I had a second to decide – do I give up my dream and protect my hand or just go for it and think consequences later.
Two seconds later I had Jabu’s hot breath enveloping my hand and do you know what – I didn’t care. I was walking ‘hand in truck’ with an ELEPHANT! This had never even been part of my wildest dreams, but I was living it. Right now!
And I should have bottled some of that elephant snot. By the next day my skin condition had seriously improved. Who needs steroid cream eh?
There are various experiences you can book whilst at the sanctuary, we added on the elephants brush down experience to our tour. A brush down to an elephant is in essence a massage. Elephants are no different to humans. They love being pampered. With a hard bristled brush you move in downward stokes on their skin. In the process you’re covered in specks of dry mud that flies off – A small price to pay for a unique interaction.
Finally we ended the tour with feeding the elephants a bucket full of apples. Jabu and Marula had lost the tips of their trunk, known as their fingers through traps when they were young. The guides taught us how to lay the food just on the inside of their trunks, rather than right into their nose like the other elephants. They weren’t shy about asking for the food. Trunk out, ready and waiting, they hoovered it up sharpish. It was a wonderful way to end our hands-on experience.
The 90 minutes you spend in the company of the elephants is not cheap. The brush down experience is 705 Rand and 310 Rand for children (4-14 yrs). Taking good care of these elephants costs a lot of money, so you can clearly see where the money goes. I would happily pay it again. Repeatedly! The activity is perfect for families. My kids were blown away by this encounter. Although I’m never going to be able to take them to London Zoo again!
This will be a moment in our lives that will stay with us always. I know it sounds dramatic but I felt so humble and honoured to stand between these mammoth animals. I’ll also remember the prolonged look into Jabu’s doe eyes whilst I massaged him. We shared a moment which left me feeling quite emotional and has been etched in my memory forever.
They say an elephant never forgets and with an experience as incredible as this one, neither will you
Have you ever had an up close and personal encounter with an animal? How did it make you feel? Let me know in the comments box below.
The Elephant Sanctuary | Monkeyland Road | The Crags | Plettenberg Bay | South Africa
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