The majestic elephant… Surprising facts…. Up close and personal… Interacting at a sanctuary…

We ducked our heads under Casper’s chin. Our faces hurt from smiling the entire time we were with the two Elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary. After our experiences the prior day in Kruger National Park, learning more about these massive animals was timely.

After the 5½ hour extraordinary experience in Kruger National Park, mostly with the elephants, it was a perfect segue to stop to the Elephant Sanctuary in the town of Hazyview before heading to the Blyde River Canyon Lodge, located near the town of Hoedspruit South Africa.

Every aspect of the Elephant anatomy was perfected created to be suitable for their massive size and environment. In many ways, their anatomical structure was not unlike humans. Males don’t mature for mating until 25 years old or more. They must develop size and stature in order to defend themselves in the pursuit of the female. Who knew?

Having seen so many elephants in Kruger National Park, we had numerous questions as to their behavior and this was the perfect place to have all of them answered.

I’d never held an elephant’s trunk. The trunk has nostrils and is used as straw or sucking water to be placed into the mouth. A valve keeps the water in place until released into the mouth.
Tom fed Casper a handful of pellets by dropping them into the opening in his trunk. He then placed them into his mouth. The trunk is used for breathing, placing food and water into his mouth, and as an appendage for lifting and holding. The Elephant is unable to breathe through his mouth.

Without a reservation for the Elephant Sanctuary, it was ironic that we arrived 10 minutes before the group tour was to begin, one of only two in the afternoons. Quickly paying a minimal fee, we entered the facility entranced by the exquisite vegetation, cleanliness, and organization of the staff and the grounds.

We both had an opportunity to take our elephant for a walk. Tom walked with Casper, the larger of the two while I walked with Gita, another male. Seventy percent of the elephant’s massive weight is supported by the front two legs. The back legs are for balancing. 

With many misconceptions about elephant behavior, the first step in the educational hands-on event was a classroom-like setting, outdoors, of course, to become familiarized not only with elephant behavior but also with their anatomy.  

Our Elephants “kissed” our necks. (My kissing photo was too blurry to post). They were “slurpy” kisses leaving mud and grit on our necks. But, we didn’t care. The female head of a herd of elephants is called the “Matriarch.” She will manage the mating of the younger females who give birth no more often than once every five years.

Our well versed and articulate guide didn’t waste a minute explaining every aspect of their anatomical structure, internal and sexual organs, mating rituals, the birthing process, and the growth and maturity cycles, all of which proved to be much different than we’d expected.

Tom, touching Casper’s tongue and mouth. Whoever does this? Casper seemed quite content with all of the attention. Large congregations of elephants occur more frequently in Africa. The purpose of the family units to feed, nurture, and protect the babies. This was evident in our photos of the huge number of elephants crossing the road in Kruger Park as shown in yesterday’s post.

Earlier in the day while in Kruger Park, encountering dozens of elephants crossing the road, we had the misconception that a lead male was included in the group of moms and babies when in fact it was a huge female, often the leader of the family, the matriarch. 

My elephant, Gita, a smaller male, hung onto Casper’s tail as they walked in front of us.

Once the male impregnates the female, he is no longer a part of the “family.” He’ll wander off to join with other males, to eat, to grow, and to fight for mating purposes. He has none of the nurturing instincts of the female. In a way, that knowledge was disappointing. We often have the perception that many animals mate for life and that’s simply not the case for a majority of species.

Tom touched the coarse pad of Casper’s foot. I had done the same. We both were impressed by the structure of the elephants, every aspect of their bodies having a distinct purpose.

After our “lessons” we walked through the dense jungle along a dirt path to an open area with benches where we would soon get up close and personal with two rescued elephants. With several locations in various parts of South Africa, the objective of the Elephant Sanctuary is to rescue elephants.  

Once returned to health and well being, they serve as ambassadors of education to inform the public of the need to respect and preserve their dwindling wildlife habitat throughout Africa, all due to man’s invasion of their space.  

The two elephants with whom we interacted, could easily return to the wild.  They aren’t caged or housed in any manner. But they have chosen the safety of this lush territory, eating off the land and enjoying the interaction with the people they’ve come to know and love. It was enchanting to be a part of this educational and interactive opportunity.

Interacting with elephants taught us so much about their behavior, their anatomy, and their life cycle proving that we had many misconceptions when observing them in the wild. Bulls will mate with as many as 30 females in a mating season.

As these photos so well tell the story of our time at the Elephant Sanctuary, we can only add that we wish we’d have had the knowledge we acquired in those few hours when we encountered the Elephants in Kruger National Park. We’d have had an entirely different perspective.

But then again, I imagine we’ll see the magnificent creatures another time before we leave South Africa. We hope so.

Note: Tonight, we’ll be back in Marloth Park having ended our three day holiday. The next story in this sequence to be posted on Sunday will be our visit to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre with more up close and personal photos of lions and other wildlife rescued when injured, poisoned, or suffering from an illness, including a photo of Tom being bombarded by two enormous vultures while trying to feed one of them a piece of raw meat! Unreal.