Elephant Ride - Victoria Falls

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Feb 1st, 2004, 09:32 PM
  #1
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Elephant Ride - Victoria Falls

I love animals and interacting with animals. Would love your description of the elephant interaction in Zambia.

How long did you get to interact with the ele? How long was the ride?
How long does it take from hotel pick up to get to the park (probable staying in in VF Zimbabwe). How long does it take to cross the border? How much is the visa?
What was the breakfast like?
And anything else you can add!

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Feb 2nd, 2004, 06:02 AM
  #2
sandi
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What kind of "interaction" are you expecting with the elephants? I gather if you're staying on the Zim side, the elephant ride is on the Zam side? Crossing the border shouldn't take much time - believe there is a charge of $5/day to cross the border.

Breakfast is breakfast - just about anything you want - cold, hot, all sorts of breads, fruits, juices, etc.

You should be asking your tour operator these questions as they make these arrangements daily and have the most current information.
 
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Feb 2nd, 2004, 08:50 AM
  #3
 
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Hi Jackie,
The Elephant-back "safari" I took in 2001(really a nice bushwalk on the ellie's back) is on the Zim side. (So no border crossing or visa!) I was staying at Ilala Lodge, and it was perhaps 1/2 hour from the hotel...they will pick you up and bring you back. (I'll find the details in my old travel notes, but it might take a couple days!) However, I believe there is only one operation that does this.
Details: They pick you up early (perhaps 7:30? can't quite remember, but not crack of dawn) and take you to a private reserve very close to Vic Falls. The ellie's they have trained were orphaned by controlled "culls" years ago (don't think Zim does this anymore) and were brought to the reserve. I liked the fact that the trainers were very respectful of the elephants and used only positive reinforcement to train them. Also, when they are free to range over quite a large area for much of the day, and I believe they have somehow rigged the gates so wild elephants can enter and leave (and interact with the former-orphans) but the trained elephants cannot leave. So they do get plenty of elephant interaction as well as human interaction.

After an orientation, you do the bushwalk on the elephant back (as I recall there is a trainer with you all the time, and another trainer on the lead elephant. It's a quiet, natural-feeling way to see the bush. And there are lots of herbivores and birds to see on their reserve.
Then you have breakfast with the trainers...the manager joined us, and he was extremely knowledgable about elephants--behavior and health. We spent some time talking about the health of animals in captivity.

The day I did this, I was the only tourist, so we had breakfast on pleasant thatched veranda surrounded by flowering shrub, by their main building. Eggs, etc. cooked to order in front of you..pretty much like the hotel buffets anywhere!

Then you go out to see how they "train" the elephants to respond to commands. You have some treats to feed them, and the elephants are quite charming about seeking them from pockets, etc. It is fascinating to see their eyes, mouths, whiskers up very close. And how they use their trunks...fascinating! (When they take the treats, you feel the their mouth and tongue on you hands, and they may "sniff" your hair with their trunks!
I initially spent my time with the elephant I rode...and the other (lead) ellie started to get jealous. He picked up a basketball (they play with these) and tossed it right in front of me to get attention! Very intelligent, and cute. So I had to play/feed/try some commands with him.
I also love animals (and volunteer with several wildlife groups) so I really enjoyed the interactions, and I do believe these orphanned ellies did too. It would be better if they were wild, but given their circumstances, this seems to be a very high quality sanctuary for them, where they "work" (in a very limited way) to help pay for their upkeep.)
Personally, I enjoyed this far more than the short helicopter trip over the Falls (scenic, but really noisy & short) but then I am totally an animal-person, and only secondarily a landscape person!
I believe that you could arrange this either in advance (my travel agent did it this way) or I am sure that your hotel in Vic Falls can arrange when you are there. With the drop in tourism to Zim, I doubt reservations will be a problem.

I'm not sure that there is anywhere in Zambia doing elephant-back safaris yet (though with the growth of tourism on the Zambia side, it may be in the works). However, Zambia does not cull elephants, so I would wonder about the source of the elephants any new operation would have...and taking wild elephants for this is clearly a bad idea.

If you have any more questions, pleas email me! And have a great trip!!
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Feb 2nd, 2004, 09:47 AM
  #4
dlm
 
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I'll be in Zambia in late Match and am also planning on doing an elephant ride. I know that they do them on the Zam side now -- I think it's with Safari Par Excellence.
Also, you may not care, but recently 2 tourists were servely injured on an elephant ride there. Apparently, the elephant charged and the couple was thrown off the elephant by a tree branch or something they ran into. They lived, but had to be airlifted out. I'll try and find the link to this news report and post it.
Sonething to consider. Nothing is without risk.
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Feb 2nd, 2004, 09:51 AM
  #5
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Here's the link. The accident happened about a month ago. http://www.suntimes.co.za/2004/01/04/news/news10.asp
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Feb 2nd, 2004, 02:13 PM
  #6
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tashak - thanks for the info on your elephant experience in Zim - very interesting. I was unaware that this was available in Zim, rather had heard of a few who had experienced such elephant encounters on the Zam side. There's always something to learn. Thanks again.
 
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Feb 3rd, 2004, 08:20 PM
  #7
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tashak
Thank you for your wonderful - complete description of your experience. It sounds very exciting. I can't wait to get to feel the ellie's skin and tongue.
I love to feed animals - we do this on every vacation. We try and find some animal interaction - whether it is swimming with the dolphins in Hawaii or feeding the moose / caribou in Alaska or riding a camel.
Was the name of the place - elephant camp? That is who my travel agent has recommended.
Thanks for the breakfast details - I was wondering if it was full or contintental. It sounds very nice.

Basketball sounded fun. Do you get to see how strong their trunk is? Does the ellie lift the trainer in his trunk?

Thanks again for your details.
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Feb 3rd, 2004, 08:23 PM
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DLM -
Thanks for your link to the ellie accident. That helps us keep focused on safety. I can remember being pulled off a horse while riding. We still have to remember the animals are trained, but can still be spooked.
Appreciate your insight.
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Feb 4th, 2004, 07:30 AM
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Thanks for posting the story about the elephant ride injuries. It IS important to keep in mind that these animals are large, powerful and potentially very dangerous.

It also highlights the issues around human-animal interactions. There are many people who think "using" elephants in this way is abusive to elephants or sends the wrong message, and these are things we should think hard about...

I do note that this operator has been offering rides only since February 2003...even if the elephants are experienced (I wonder for example, if any of the Zim elephants have been contracted out over there, because there are not too many sources of trained elephants in Africa), they are operating in a new territory...and possibly with new trainers. All of these things can influence how skittish or relaxed an animal is... Also, these elephants seem to be working in a territory that is not "theirs" (even if they are used to doing rides there regularly) and I wonder what influence this has on elephant behavior. In truth, not much in known about African elephants being trained this way...just a few years ago the "experts" said it was impossible to train them (unlike Asian elephants, who have a long history of working for people)

Slightly funny story about African elephants: When US Pres. Bush went to Botswana last year he visited an educational reserve outside Gaborone called Mokolodi. Mokolodi has a number of orphanned animals living in their sanctuary, including several elephants and 2 beautiful cheetah brothers. All have been habituated to people-visits ,and the fees from these activities help pay for Mokolodi's educational programs for local kids. Mokolodi wanted Bush to visit the two very relaxed cheetahs (who had been hand-raised after their mother was killed by a farmer). U.S. Secret Service said "No. Too dangerous." But the politicos wanted a photo opp showing Bush and the ellies (could it be because the elephant is the Republican party's symbol?) Secret Service said "OK". People from Africa who heard this story thought it was hysterically funny. "How could the U.S. Secret Service, which claims it knows how to protect the President, come to such a stupid judgement!" Because there is no recorded incident of a cheetah ever killing a person (injure, yes...but kill, never. Cheetahs are shy and run from people!)While there are many, many incidents of elephants, even trained elephants, killing people every year. Even the best trained elephants are huge and potentially very dangerous.

By the way: if anyone is driving around Botswana and is in the Gaborone area, Mokolodi is a great place to stay, but you must have a vehicle to get around. (They have self-catering chalets by a waterhole...) Otherwise you can do a day trip from a hotel in Gaborone (they will pick you up I believe). The cheetah visit is an absolute thrill, and it is always interesting to interact with ellies. There are no predators in the reserve proper (the cheetahs have their own huge 4 or 5 hectare enclosure) but the animals and birds in the reserve are very habituated to people, so I got some of my very best photos here.
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Feb 4th, 2004, 06:58 PM
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I read all these posts with interest because of my exciting experience while on tour in Thailand. We got to ride on an elephant through the jungle then saw the elephant show in which the animals did various stunts. Then volunteers were requested and something made me go down to the arena, not really knowing what I was getting into. I was asked to lie down in front of an elephant to receive a Thai massage from the elephant! This involved the animal patting my back with one foot! I was screaming for my husband to get my picture and he did! Then, I got to sit on the trunks of two elephants and be lifted up and carried across the arena! I was so excited and couldn't believe what I was doing! By the way, I was 57 years old at the time.
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