The Africa Journals
Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.—Unknown
Q: What do you say when you sit on the back of an elephant?
A: Absolutely nothing. Your breath has been taken away.
It’s early morning in Zimbabwe and the eternal mist from the Zambezi River's plunge over the cliffs glows in the rays of a rising sun. We leave Victoria Falls Hotel and drive a few miles out of town. Joggers are running up and down the highway, dodging traffic and baboons, as does our coach. The baboons are in no hurry.
|Safety rule with baboons: DO NOT speak to them. They don't like it and might attack.|
|How can you possibly teach your kids not to play in the street when the adults do?|
|The baboon in the foreground has an infant clinging to her belly.|
We pull onto a dirt road and arrive at a pleasant, bucolic scene that is far from what I expected in Africa.
|Did you think Africa looked like this?|
Soon, the handlers bring up a half dozen elephants and stop them by a water trough. Some drink, but a young one plays in the water.
|Just a kid playing in the water.|
They are not gray, but red—the color of the mud they roll in to cool themselves and protect their hides from insects and sunburn. Each carries two chairs strapped to their backs by immense girth straps and I wonder how they manage to get them around these great beasts. It’s far different than saddling a horse.
The elephants are trained to interact with humans and they drape their long trunks over the rails and on the floor of the lapa (like an outdoor pavilion).
We are then given our instruction, which is simply to climb the steps of a platform and keep our feet from being caught between the edge of the platform and the elephant, because it is trained to lean against the edge to make it easier for the rider to slide into the chair.
|Yes, the handlers carried blunted bullhooks which they used to push branches out of our way. All commands were vocal with leg and knee pressure.|
After that? Enjoy, the elephant does all the work while occasionally grabbing a nearby tree as a snack.
I don’t say much even after I catch my breath; I simply immerse myself in this exotic experience. Emily is her name and she’s an orphan, as are all the older elephants at Wild Horizons Elephant Safaris. Now, Emily is a mother and her baby is part of the herd here in Zimbabwe.
|Armed guides walk alongside for safety.|
|Caked mud on the elephant's ear. Our guide Simon sits on part of a blanket and folds the rest of it over his legs.|
|Emily's ear against my leg.|
|Baby taking advantage of a photo stop to nurse.|
|And yank up a small bush.|
|Emily and her baby.|
|Grabbing a bush for a snack.|
|Emily's leathery ear is folded against my leg. These amazing ears, full of veins, act as the elephant's radiator for cooling its body. The elephant flaps its ears back and forth, cooling the blood in the ears.|
|The two dexterous "fingers' on an elephant's trunk can pick up single blades of grass.|
|Note the two different platform heights.|
|Gail and Bob on the huge bull elephant Jok. This is where you need the higher platform|
|For protection from predators in the bush. I read that a guide walking next to the elephants was attacked by a leopard.|
|A bucket of pellets--elephants treats.|
|You can either throw the pellets into their mouths or fill the end of their trunks.|
|The immense Jok.|
|Waiting for their treats.|
We return to the lapa and MY GOD! There's a cheetah in there!!!
This video is fairly long and contains images of my elephant safari as well as other information.