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.
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.