Botswana’s raw beauty will always be a massive draw for anyone seeking a true wilderness experience in Africa. Well known for its density of game and wildlife and the largest inland delta in the world, Botswana is often at the top of many peoples' list when seeking a safari in Africa yet competitive prices keep Botswana exclusive and untouched.
Blog: My encounter with elephants in Botswana
Our Botswana expert Anton had a unique experience up close and personal with elephants in the Okavango Delta, here he shares his tale of ‘Living with Elephants’.
Dawn is breaking. The sun is glistening off the grass. The birds are calling. I love this time of day. As I enjoy my first cup of coffee, I am excited about the prospect of the day ahead; today is a particularly special day. I am in the Okavango Delta, having just spent the night sleeping on my ‘star bed’ to the chirping of the reed frogs and hippos in the distance – my ‘white noise’ of the bush! Now I’m preparing for a morning spent ‘Living with Elephants’. Launched in 1999 by American couple Doug and Sandi Groves, Living with Elephants is a charity dedicated to creating harmonious relationships between people and elephants based in the Okavango Delta.
En route to meet these gentle giants, a family of warthogs dashed across the road, next a stunning journey of giraffe crossed the swamps in front of us, and finally the beauty of a lilac breasted roller had us all in awe as it was flying to catch insects – such is the traffic in the Delta! As we rounded the final corner, I caught my first glimpse of the three elephants (Jabu, Thembi and Morula) that we had come to see peacefully feeding with their human ‘parents’ (Doug and Sandy) and I knew today was going to be a massive highlight of my trip. The next thing I saw was Sandy walking up to Jabu, who put his trunk out, welcoming her to sit on it – he then carried her across the channel towards us. Slowly we were introduced to the elephants, with Jabu, a huge 28 year old bull, being the most inquisitive. He took the initiative to introduce himself, but standing only a few feet away from us, he seemed more interested in the treats that Sandy had to offer than the 6 visitors! Being so close was nerve-wracking, but sensing the ease Sandy was feeling, made it much easier to relax into the experience, as surreal as it was! We then spent the morning being introduced to the elephants and learnt how each of them came to be under Doug and Sandy’s care.
I was fascinated to learn that Morula only joined the others when she was 15. If she was a youth in the UK, she would have been given a few ASBOs for chasing people off their picnic sites to eat their oranges and taking her anger out on any tree that dared not move out of her way. That was until Doug and Sandy came across her… now she is the gentlest elephant who loves the attention that is bestowed upon her. She lay down for us and allowed us to feel the underneath of her foot. I was amazed at the flexibility – the elephant’s feet are so sensitive that despite Morula being a 3.5 tonne elephant, the sole of her foot moulds over whatever it stands on. This was lucky for Sandy, for on the one occasion where Morula mistakenly stood on her foot, no bones were broken!
As the morning heated up, the elephants led us to a favoured drinking spot of theirs. We watched them drink and throw water over themselves to cool. We followed the elephants into the shade where Thembi was introduced to us. Thembi is the smallest of the three and loves to be the centre of attention and was the most at ease in our company. We were treated to lunch with the elephants, who were very gracious hosts and allowed us to be served first. A fantastic lunch was laid out by Stanley’s Camp under the shade of a sausage tree. My favourite part of the day was when Jabu came over to inspect if I had finished my plate, and then Thembi gave me a kiss goodbye!
My special thanks to Doug and Sandy from Living with Elephants and also Sanctuary Camps for making this lifelong dream come true.