Elephants and Lions!

So, my favorite “African” animal is the elephant.  I love the skin, the trunk, the size of the eyes, the care for their young, the mourning that they do when a family member dies, the familial sensibility in the group…  Basically, I can’t think of anything that I don’t like.  I can even respect, in some way, their violent urges against humans – they can be very dangerous, and sometimes it seems that they are most dangerous to those who encroach on their increasingly smaller pieces of land.

Jollyboys offers an Elephant encounter… and you can put that together with a lion encounter.  Lions and Elephants, in close proximity to me, both experiences happening on the same day?  SIGN ME UP.

My morning started with the Lion Encounter.  In one of the parks near Livingstone, there is a group which houses lions as part of a re-population campaign.  Lions’ numbers, as it turns out, are dwindling (a fact that I did not know).  This group has some lions which it have been raised as captive animals.  Those captive lions have been bred, and the first groups of young lions (removed from their mothers’ care at three weeks) have been learning skills to survive in the wild.  The captive mothers do not have the skills for surviving in the wild, so the cubs are removed and trained, in part by humans.  Human handlers take the lions on walks and encourage “wild behavior” such as stalking prey.  As these cubs grow older, they are used for “lion encounters” with tourists — for 1.5 hours, we went on a lion walk with them, financially supporting the group through the experience, and getting to see how the lions are learning.  This group of adolescent lions are put in a pride which is tested over sometime for its social cohesion.  Once the cohesion is settled, they are moved to a large area with plenty of prey and a few competitors.  These lions then mate and have additional litters of cubs — once these cubs are educated about how to survive in the wild (this time by the lions themselves rather than humans) and mature, they are moved to parks throughout Africa to repopulate the areas whose populations have been decimated.

My lion experience was AMAZING.  These are some big cats (which strangely look like Jersey!).  We were equipped with sticks for distraction (not for hitting — the cats can’t ever see you as a potential playmate, because that would be detrimental to your health!), three guides, one wildlife official (with an AK-47), and a scout.   We were walking through a national park with these cats, so anything was possible!  There were four of us tourists, and we each had plenty of time walking next to, stroking, and feeling the cats.

In the afternoon, I met up with Nancy and Matt, and we headed back to the same place, this time for our Elephant Safari!  We were briefed on safety protocols and then headed outside to meet the elephants.  There was a BABY elephant and an adolescent…  and then around eight mature adults.  Elephants are huge.  I think that I have been on an elephant before (Dustin or Mom and Dad, do you remember?), but I don’t think that any were quite this large.  Nancy fancied one of the largest ones, and since we were riding in couples (along with a personal guide/rider), we went with a big buddy.  We climbed 1.5 flights of stairs to mount the elephant — yikes.

These elephants are also part of a refuge program (much like the cats).  These elephants were all orphaned at some point, either by their owners or mothers.  They were rescued and brought to the park in Livingstone.  Every day, the elephants do this one hour walk (which financially then supports their care); in the afternoons, they are set free to roam the park, and as the guides say, “be elephants.”  The elephants always return, although sometimes they can disappear for a while after being welcomed into a wild herd.  In fact, one of the female elephants was gone for 10 months and came back one morning – pregnant :).  I think it is pretty neat that the elephants can leave if they want and return if they desire.

By far the highlight of the elephant experience was the story of the baby elephant…  The baby elephant  was abandoned by its mother while (the guides think) the mother was crossing a swollen river.  For whatever reason, the baby couldn’t make it and the mother did not return.  The baby was abandoned on the island for an estimated three months, surviving by eating all of the plants and eventually dirt.  The group of elephants under the care of this refuge found the baby elephant on an afternoon walk and brought it back with them to home (this is known because a group of the guides follow the elephants everyday as they walk about the park).  The baby was crying (there were streaks of tears on its face) and the group found it…  And now it is happy, healthy, and growing!  YEAH ELEPHANTS!

Here are some pictures and video: http://picasaweb.google.com/JuliannaRiggHillard/0705LionsAndElephants#
To be so close to such powerful animals — ones that could do harm in a split second but which did not (obviously) was a remarkable experience.  Much about this experience felt similar to that of being with the gorillas in Uganda.  It is so primal and real to be rightnexttoanotherlivinganimal, one whose language you cannot speak but whom you can, at some level, understand.
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One Response to Elephants and Lions!

  1. Mama says:

    Ha, I beat Cate again! Great stories. I also love elephants and read/watch whatever I can find about them.

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