Elephant Safari

Trip Start Sep 15, 2012
Trip End Dec 19, 2012

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Flag of Zambia  ,
Sunday, October 14, 2012

One last tourist thing for this week – this morning I visited the river on elephant back. Of the couple of companies doing it, the one from the Thorn Tree Lodge is the only one that goes into the river. The ride itself is about an hour, through brush, through the river, and back. After, you get to give your elephant treats and take photos with the resident baby.

The ride was subdued, given the very early hour and the very late night celebrating the soccer win yesterday, but it was still great fun. Going by elephant means other animals aren't as scared of you, and crocodiles won’t eat you in the river (a real concern), but it’s still tough to see anything in this scrubland. Below, what looks like dry grass contains five impala; in an earlier photo, you can see how even something as big as an elephant can be nearly invisible, and I have some similar photos (not posted) of giraffes disappearing into the background as well.

After the walks, the elephants are turned loose in the area near the lodge. They are so free, one of them disappeared for nearly a year, and came back pregnant (that baby is the one I was riding, now maybe ten years old). So, the elephants work for maybe two hours (one in the morning, one in the evening), part of which includes a swim, which my – not sure what to call him – guide? steerer? said they love. There is a pen, where I think they stay at night for protection.

The elephants used on these walks were almost all orphaned due to poaching, and the very high cost of the ride helps support the nine elephants currently there. They also sell prints of their footprints, so you can buy a print from the elephant you rode. The big ones, at least, the little ones haven’t done prints yet. There’s a pretty hard sell for the (also expensive) video shot of your ride. I would have liked to have opted out of being filmed.

I always have mixed feelings about attractions like this. One the one hand, they do it well here, so it works as part of larger efforts with conservation; it protects more elephants from poachers; and, since each elephant goes with a trained rider, it employs many people. I think the benefits of the way it’s done here outweigh my reservations.
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