Elephant Back Safari?


May 15th, 2005, 09:36 AM
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Elephant Back Safari?

Hi all,

We will be spending 2 days near Victoria Falls at the River Club. One of the activities we're considering is the half-day elephant back safari.

Has anyone does this? Would it be worthwhile given our limited time there? We definitely want to visit to falls, maybe do a bit of shopping and walking around in the villages as well.

Thanks in advance,

PS: exactly one week away from departure!
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May 15th, 2005, 10:13 AM
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We did the safari offered by the Zambezi Elephant Trails when we were in Livingstone for our Vic Falls visit. It was terrific ... here's a portion of the write up from my trip journal. And, if you'd like to see photos - check out our album (the ellie ride starts with picture 278)


An Elephant Moment with Our Friend Lewa

We had a fantastic morning on our elephant ride. A representative from the Zambezi Elephant Trails operation drove us to the elephant camp. Since we were the last to be picked up, the van ride was short. There were 11 participants, the number restricted by the elephant population of the camp.

Sipping coffee – hot tea in my case – we took care of the housekeeping issues first: liability paperwork and safety briefing. Then we met the elephants. The ellies in this camp were brought over from a similar operation in Zimbabwe. Two of them were orphaned during culling operations – Danny and Bop. The other four were saved from certain death during a bad drought – Madinda, Mushumbi, Marula, and Lewa.

I don’t necessarily think training wild animals is a good thing, but in this case bringing them to this camp was a matter of saving their lives. Besides, by allowing visitors a close encounter, they serve as ambassadors for the preservation of their species – that’s a good thing.

Wow! And wow again! Such a simple word, but so appropriate to our experience. How else can I describe being nose-to-trunk with a full-grown bull?

The elephants lined up side by side, a virtual wall of gray. Standing near them, I experienced one overriding feeling. No, it wasn’t fear. It was pure ‘awe’. Little did I know that things were about to get even better. As our guide started introducing each animal, Danny, the biggest of the elephants, stepped out. He came directly towards me, raising his trunk to sniff first my hair, and then the hand I instinctively held out to him. At 5’2” [1.5m], I’ve never thought of myself as particularly small, but with multi-ton Danny standing next to me, I felt downright diminutive.

Someone had told me, “When you photograph an elephant in the wild, zoom in on the eye; it will be an amazing picture.” Forget the picture; looking Danny in the eye was the ultimate in amazing. Wow! That’s all I can say – it’s an experience I will treasure forever.

Shortly thereafter, accompanied by an armed guide and a videographer, we were on the backs of these gentle giants. With one of the ellies pregrant, Danny did double duty, carrying four people. The expecting ellie accompanied us riderless. Mui and I rode astride Lewa, a 16-year old female. I was a fair distance from Lewa’s head; nonetheless, her flapping ears reached back to cover my legs. It was like having an extra blanket against the morning chill.

Together with Christopher, her handler, Lewa took us through Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and along the banks of the Zambezi. Her slow, plodding gait was surprisingly quiet as we rode through the bush. In our saddle, we gently swayed side to side – it felt like we were in a cradle. At one point, we stopped by the river for a photo op – that picture will make a great Christmas card this year.

When she wasn’t stopping to sample the bounty of nature every other step, Lewa gave us the ride of a lifetime. A branch too hard to break off? No problem, let’s just take the entire sapling with us! And so we made our way through the bush with Lewa munching away – it gave ‘take away food’ a completely new meaning!

We did not see much in the way of wildlife during the ride; several wild elephants just outside camp – hence the armed escort – and a lone giraffe further into our ride. We weren’t on a game drive, though, so the lack of sightings did not bother us. We had a beautiful day for our outing; a little on the cool side. We were halfway across the world living a very special adventure. We sat back and enjoyed the experience and our surroundings. Throughout, running through the back of mind was Clarke’s words from the article about Abu. In this instance, I’ll paraphrase:

With each step, every muscle in her body flexed. Her pelvic girdle swayed. Her shoulder blades protruded like pistons – left, right, left, right. The thick massive skin on her back rolled back and forth across her spine.

I know.

I was riding on top of Lewa.
And I felt like I was riding on top of the world!

After the ride, we had a chance to interact more closely with our ellie. Feedbag in hand, I sat on Lewa’s bent knee and fed her – sometimes commanding her ‘trunk down’ to place food pellets directly into her trunk. At one point, in a very trusting way, she laid her head on my shoulder! Ugh – talk about heavy! I bore her considerable weight with a smile and patted her cheek.

After about 20 minutes, the ellies left us to get their treats – they prefer the sweet oranges and eat them first, and then move onto the lemons. Who can blame them? As they munched on their fruit, we were escorted to our own meal – a full-blown English breakfast consisting of: steak and eggs, beans, potatoes, steamed tomatoes, and a fruit compote. For a buffet, the food was very good.
Conversation throughout the meal was quite animated and revolved around the elephant ride as we compared experiences. We were all in total agreement – it was indescribable. Nevertheless, here I am, trying to do just that.
eenusa is offline  
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May 15th, 2005, 11:13 AM
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eenusa: All I can say after reading your post about elephant back safari is....WOW! Thanks for sharing the experience so eloquently. I'll be leaving in a week for my second Horseback Safari in the Okavango Delta. If you've ever ridden, you may want to consider the type of safari. It's an incredible experience.
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May 15th, 2005, 11:40 AM
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Girlpolo - Glad you enjoyed the little snippet from my journal. It's going to be nearly a year since we returned from safari, and I am still working on polishing up the words - so far over 100 pages and counting. One of these days I'll have to call a halt to the editing and print the thing.

The horseback safaris sound interesting, however, we have little to no riding experience, so I think we'll have to stick to 4WD and walking. Enjoy your adventure and do post about it when you get back.
eenusa is offline  
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May 15th, 2005, 11:42 AM
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Wow, indeed! Almost felt like I was there along with you!
Kavey is offline  
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May 15th, 2005, 04:46 PM
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Thanks for the description and the pictures!
linjudy is offline  
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May 15th, 2005, 05:11 PM
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Thanks for the great description. I think you've sold a lot of us.
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May 15th, 2005, 08:52 PM
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Eenusa, Now I want to do it!! I'll be staying at Tongabezi Lodge in Zambia this summer - do you think it's easy to book this ride?
Lin is offline  
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May 15th, 2005, 10:01 PM
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Wonderful description and photos. An elephant back safari is definitely on my "to do" list.
safari274 is offline  
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May 16th, 2005, 02:55 AM
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Lin - for our July '04 ride, I booked sometime in May through the company that helped organize our safari. I believe you can also make arrangements by contacting the lodge you will be staying at (I know we could have done so through Sussi & Chuma as they had the ride listed as an activity for extra $$s.

Here's a site that has more information; I believe this is where I first found the idea back then; you could possibly book through here as well.


Everyone - glad my words were so inspiring. Riding one of these elephants was truly a special experience.
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