Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An extraordinary privilege.....................


Abu Camp in Botswana is based on elephant conservation of the highest degree. Its strategy is based on research of key issues impacting the conservation of Southern Africa's elephants through partnerships with research institutions, including Elephants Without Borders and Elephants for Africa. It's obvious that all members of Abu's herd are treated with overwhelming loving care and respect.

Our first morning arrived bright and freezing! Getting dressed meant just throwing more layers over my P.J.'s as I couldn't even consider taking them off, shame!! After a splash of water to wake up, brushing teeth, and downing a quick coffee, we were off to the elephants' compound.
Abu is unique in the Okavango Delta as it allows guests to interact with the resident herd of seven elephants in their natural habitat, and enjoy the wonderful experience of game viewing from an elephant-back safari at a stately pace which does not disturb other game in the wetland wilderness.
Only the three adult elephants take passengers. The young ones follow along though as they are all left together in the bush every day to enjoy their wild side (handlers remain in the area to keep an eye on them). Kitimetse, known as Kiti, is bringing up the rear. She was found abandoned by her natal herd after being attacked by a crocodile as a baby and was brought to Abu where her wounds were treated. After making a complete recovery she was introduced to the herd and her first daughter Lorato (meaning 'Love' in Setswana) was born in 2008.
Sherini, the doting natural mother of the herd, was saved from a cull in Kruger National Park and is a great favorite with Abu's elephant keepers. She has given birth to three calves including a male who was subsequently successfully released, and Baby Abu, a playful 6 year old bull. 
Warona (meaning 'For Us') is her newest baby, born in Dec. 2011, she is just a big bundle of fun! Here she took off after the warthogs, chasing them away.
Bob and I loved riding Cathy, matriarch of the herd. She was removed from Uganda soon after her birth in 1960 and taken to a safari park in Toronto, Canada. Thirty years later she was 'recruited' by Abu Camp founders to return to Africa to start the very first elephant-back safari. She acquired the reputation of being the 'limousine' of the herd with her comfortable ride, and stable and gentle temperament both with people and the young elephants. An amazing fact is that Cathy never had a baby of her own, however, when Sherini gave birth to Warona, Cathy started lactating and little Warona nurses from both her mom and her quasi 'grandmother'.
Warona, 'elephant paddling' along behind us.
After the ride through bush and water, the elephants were relieved of their saddles (Sherini above) and spent the remainder of the day joining up with wild playmates in the bush, doing what elephants do, which seems to be mostly eating.........
 ..........after they were given treats of course! Cathy loved being hand-fed.
Above, Paula with youngsters Warona and Lorato.
Truly a morning to remember.
Later in the afternoon we returned to the elephants and rode them back to camp through the pristine riverine forest and past hardwood trees on the edge of the large lagoon.  The great paradox of elephant conservation is that while many African countries are experiencing rapidly declining elephant populations others - such as Botswana - have to cope with growing numbers which have reached around 130,000 in Northern Botswana alone.
A shadow of ourselves on Cathy.
Well I've done it both ways now - bareback elephant riding in Chiang Mai, Thailand (painful on the aging thighs!)and a bit nerve-wracking up there behind those big ears all alone. Now, sitting in the saddle in Botswana, guided by a competent handler, with hubby behind to give support as I twisted and turned trying to take meaningful photos! Don't you dare ask me which was the most enjoyable...........they were both awesome experiences.

19 comments:

  1. I can't even imagine how wonderful it would be to be with those elephants. I will have to live that experience through you. Beautiful photos of beautiful creatures.

    xo
    Claudia

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  2. Oh how lovely dear!! You and Bob look great, and having a wonderful time. How sweet the little Warona story... so cute! Looking forward to seeing both of you soon! Love ~ Vanessa

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  3. Oh my! Such wonderful pictures. What a wonderful adventure you are having. Africa is a place I long to visit. Thanks you taking me along. Bonnie

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  4. What an exciting adventure you were on! Those elephants are beautiful.

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  5. I LOVE 'sharing' your wonderful, breathtaking holiday Mary...
    Stunning photos, you are obviously having FUN.
    Last night, after reading your fabulous post a new series started on TV - Bush Pilots. Based in Maun, and taking guests to the camps in the Okovango! I watched especially hard but Denise wasn't featured. It was fascinating, especially after reading your take on it! I'll be watching again next week.
    Do continue having the most amazing time :o))
    Hugs
    Rose H
    xx

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  6. How exciting. Elephants are so interesting to me, with their skin folds, big floppy ears, and trunk. What fun you've had riding them - in Thailand and in Africa.

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  7. Oh what a lovely post! How I miss Africa! The Okavango is amazing, and the quietness at sunset is stunning! Enjoy your trip
    Hugs
    Jacqui

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  8. I love hearing how they care for these rescued giants. They are just beautiful!

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  9. Oh, how amazing!

    About 7 years ago I met a 'herd' of orphans saved from awful predicaments. We got to ride on the adults. They go out once a day and then play! Benny was 10 feet tall! He had a favourite stick that he played with each day and then returned to the same place in the huge river.It was a wonderful experience.

    We have an opportunity to visit them again on this trip and I can't wait.
    I remember the texture of their skin-thick and hairy!

    I'm not sure I will have such a steady hand as you, but I'll try to take some photos too.

    Sft x

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  10. I am so enjoying your trip..Wish it was me though..
    I have been to Africa 3 times ,but never when it was cold....

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  11. Love the photos. I love elephants.

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  12. Lovely photos! Just stopping by to wish you a Happy 4th of July! xoxo Lynn

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  13. Mary, it's awesome just viewing your photos and reading about your experience. This is all exciting and very interesting.
    Hugs for a happy 4th ~ Sarah

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  14. Awesome indeed! Wow. What amazing photos of these beautiful creatures. I can't imagine being on an elephant's back but you look quite comfortable up there. Hugs, Pamela

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  15. It's beautiful.

    Photography is great.

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  16. What an experience! Would you go again? It looks amazing - the stories of the individual elephants are so touching. I'm enjoying this vicariously!

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  17. How wonderful Mary, a very touching post. I'm playing catch up on blogging after being away for a week. I am so glad to come back to such exciting posts.

    Paul

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  18. Elephants do love to eat. I remember when we were on our ride in Nepal last summer -- it was so amazing how they would just swing their trunks side to side pulling up elephant grass and eating it as we moseyed along. Such an incredible experience to interact with them. Such wonderful stories of this conservation camp. Hugs, Tammy

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