Without me knowing or planning, this turned into my year of the Elephant! After spending many years in the bush before joining the Livsaf dream team, and being very spoilt by the amazing animal life around me, I first fell in love with elephants after watching them come down to the waterhole, at the lodge where I was working, each afternoon once the guests had left for their evening safari. I was left alone with the elephants. Moms, babies, bulls, one at a time or massive herds coming, patiently allowing each other the chance to drink and move on before the next lot arrived to savour a cool drink of water after a long hot day. This was the start of my love affair.

Even though you are able to get close up on safaris, you always keep your respectful distance and allow the elephants their own personal space to move freely. You know these creatures are big but at the same time gentle giants with a whole lot of heart. I was incredibly privileged this year with 3 individual, and very different elephant interaction experiences. There are many centres throughout Southern Africa that look after orphaned elephants, where many are able to be reintroduced into the wild, but for those who aren’t, it’s a very expensive project to run, and these interaction programs and the funds raised through, are able to facilitate their care. There has been an immense amount of global focus on the unethical methods of elephant back riding and as a result most operations that used to offer it, have now moved away from this entirely. On various trips this year, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few Elephant Interaction programs and how these kinds of safari activities operate, compare my experiences in the different areas, but also form a personal understanding of this activity and how this has adapted with the removal of Elephant back riding. This interaction experience is so special as you get to spend so much more time face to face with the elephants and I think they much prefer it too!

Stanley’s Camp – Okavango Delta, Botswana
My first experience and I can honestly say, the most special, was at Stanley’s Camp. I felt humbled by the amazing work that Doug and Sandi Groves have done by dedicating nearly 30 years to providing such care and refuge to Jabu and Morula, rescued elephants saved from culling operations in which their families were destroyed.
We met them in the middle of the bush, we walked with them, hand in trunk, or even a shoulder hug for extra cuddles. I could not believe that I was that close to one of the biggest animals in Africa. Doug and Sandi from Stanley’s spent so much time telling us about the elephants, we got to hear their various calls, see their teeth, feel behind their ears and stand so close to them we could literally hear their tummies rumbling. Our experience was completed with a beautiful brunch under the shade of the trees with the elephants munching on their own breakfast branches next to us and finally completed by being welcomed into their herd with kisses. I was totally smitten!

Abu Camp – Okavango Delta, Botswana
After my first elephant encounter, I knew what to expect, so a visit to Abu Camp was made more special due to my excitement of being that close to these giants again. This herd comprised of 8 members and the best part of this experience was that they had babies! We started a beautiful walk through the bush that took us to a clearing where we were able to feed and interact with the elephants. Wellington, the herd manager and the herd handlers were amazing with their information and stories told on each of the elephants. We had so much fun watching the little ones playing hide and seek with the herdsmen. Their playful natures are definitely heart-warming to see! It was also wonderful to hear how a few elephants have successfully made their own way back into the bush, on their own accord. They still visit the herd every now and then to check in, but have opted to be totally free.
A “must-do” for guests staying at Abu is their star bed sleep-out, which views over the elephants’ boma, so you can fall asleep with the sounds of sleeping elephants below. Quite amazing and very special!

Jabulani Safari – Kruger area, South Africa
I was totally immersed into the elephants at Camp Jabulani. Even though there was time for safari drives, our time was mostly spent with the elephants. We had the wonderful opportunity to meet 4 of the 15 elephants and feed, interact and learn about them. Seeing them tower over you and yet be totally comfortable with your presence amongst them is truly remarkable. We enjoyed sundowners with them each evening on their way back from their day out, walking slowly past the dam, the Drakensberg mountains in the background and the most spectacular sunset as a back drop. You sit in awe as you watch them walking and moving so quietly and peacefully back to their boma.
On our second day we were able to observe as they enjoyed their afternoon swim at a nearby dam. A beautiful picnic lunch was set up for another couple in camp, with cushions and a blanket to watch the herd as they moved towards the waterhole. This was a lovely touch, that I’m sure made an already special experience even more memorable. The weather was quite cool on this day and the elephants decided not to head into the water as it was not hot enough. Instead they played on the banks and kept each other entertained with a few buffalo keeping a close eye on their distance.

After these 3 special encounters I feel enriched beyond measure and feel very privileged to have experience these amazing creatures at such close and intimate encounters. They truly touch your soul and whenever I see an elephant in the wild, I close my eyes and smile. I am now more in love with them and respect them even more having made such incredible connections with each of the beautiful individuals I met!