Riding an Elephant

Amanda Vallone

Lions and tigers and bears… oh that’s a different trip. Let’s talk elephants in Victoria Falls.

As you have probably already read in some of our last blogs, the experiences in South Africa and Zimbabwe & Zambia are spectacular. This is one account of one more stunning experience.

It was 5am the day after our brush with death touching the lions… Joking!

Seriously, it was more like 4am the next morning when we woke up and had a cup of coffee and headed out. My family was the same as normal, dragging their feet getting ready. How does one get ready for a Bush Safari on Elephant anyway? Because that was exactly what we were doing.

As we got to camp, we were given a safety briefing and history lesson about the elephants we would see, and we were told of their handlers.

And then we all walked out on the deck and saw this spectacular parade of majestic creatures walking one by one to the balcony we were boarding them from. Besides pure size alone, the thing that most impressed me was their skin. It is all dry and wrinkled, thousands and thousands of beautiful old wrinkles, and their eyelashes are incredibly long. Like that 99-year-old woman whose skin was tanned from her life and all her wrinkles show the proof of the life she has lived—the good, the bad and everything in between. Those wrinkles are her storybook of every smile, cry, laugh, and heartache in her life—it is completely beautiful. Elephants are just the same. When you look them in the eye, there is so much depth… you find a connection right away. The elephant is truly a soulful creature. It is no wonder why all of the other animals respect them the way they do.

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So how does one board an elephant?

Let’s just say, I am not your best example…

The elephants walk up to the deck that is designed to be right at the height of their backs. You walk up and set your left leg (inside leg) up first then quickly hoist the right leg over the back of the elephant. This does take some maneuvering and stability but is so worth it.

After you are on be sure to LIFT your left (inside) foot up. Why is this an important thing? Well the elephant leans into the deck to allow you to get on. So, if you don’t do as you’re told—and are an idiot like me—your foot will be squished between the deck and the bajillion pound elephant. This, my friends, is not a comfortable position to be in.

After I realized my ankle was not crushed into a million pieces, it was time to enjoy the ride.

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We took a leisurely stroll on the back of our elephants through the bush, where we learned about our lovely pachyderm, her feeding habits, and why their tusks are all broken or sawed off.

Interesting fact: Elephant Reserves in Africa have begun sawing off the Elephants tusks to make the elephants less desirable for poaching AND because an infected tusk can lead to death. So by sawing them down, there is less of a chance for the ends to be broken and later infected.

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Time to Walk on the Wild Side…

Amanda Vallone

 

A trip to Victoria Falls allows for a great adventure opportunity. There are helicopter rides over the falls, bungee jumping off the bridge, diving in the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and white water adventures.

Many of the people in our group could not choose what they wanted to do as a side trip so they chose to enjoy a few things.

About 8 of our Explorers took a helicopter ride over the falls. From what I heard, it was quite an incredible experience.

15 of us decided to live on the WILD side…

The evening after our daring jump into Devils Pool, 15 of our group members decided to walk with the lions. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into. Would we be eaten alive, would we get to touch them? Would we only get to be with the cubs?

We would soon find out.

Our guide and driver picked us up at the hotel and brought us out into the bush to a wildlife refuge. Along the way our bus broke down and we had to hoof it about ½ a mile through the bush. We were all concerned a lion would find us looking quite yummy for their dinner…

Upon safe arrival to Lion Encounter, we were offered a beverage and given a briefing as to how to walk with the lions. We were all given a stick to protect ourselves. You read that right, a STICK was our protection against these creatures. If a lion lunged at us we were to point the stick at them and say “no.” Whaaat?????

So, off we went. Splitting into two groups, my group took the path with more of a hike and the other group went along more flat land in the opposite direction.

And out came the first two lions.

Trained they were! But wild animals just the same.

Paula was the first one up to walk with the lions. I think everyone stopped breathing as she approached him.

Then each of us took our turns to follow walking with these amazing creatures and getting photos along the way.

When I say this experience was magical, I really mean it. To say you walked, and even touched, a lion is quite spectacular.

I to this day cannot believe we did it.

The walk alone was a full hour or more. When we were done we were served a nice small meal and given some drinks. We then learned a lot about the conservation, how the lions were brought here, and how they’re prepared for release into a pride.

I had a few guests on my trip who did not want to participate in this experience because they watched a documentary about experiences like this that would kill the lions after they were done with them. How horrible!

The Lion Encounter is all about ethical rehabilitation and release into the wild. They do not declaw or de-tooth their lions, which is what you hear of at some of those places. It was the goal and priority of Salute Africa not to fund any of the inhumane projects. So, they paired us up directly with Lion Encounter.

Our group was so impressed by this experience and what they do for the lions. It was incredible. But a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out our photos:

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