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Has anyone done the elephant back safari at Vic Falls?

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Jul 25th, 2005, 08:32 AM
  #1
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Has anyone done the elephant back safari at Vic Falls?

Wondering if anyone has done this, I need to make advance reservations if it's worth it. Thanks!
matnikstym is offline  
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Jul 25th, 2005, 09:30 AM
  #2
 
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Which side will you be on? We were on the Zim side and took an elephant ride in May 2004. I think the same company may be offering the rides on both sides but things seem to change so frequently.

As far as whether it was worth it - I would say we're glad we did it but probably have no desire to do it again.

Just some things to consider: We were rounded up with about 15 others from various hotels at around 6 am and then driven to the elephant reserve. We were given instructions as a group and given a history about the elephants (orphaned, rescued, etc). It took some time for everyone to walk up the platform and mount the elephants. Typically it was the elephant guide along with a couple behind him. We were then given one of the smaller ellies since my wife and I were considered of smaller "stature". Then we walked through the reserve for about 45 minutes as a group. There was no other game on the reserve although we were accompanied by an armed guide leading the group on foot just in case.

It was a unique experience which I don't regret but given the choice now of a morning game drive or the elephant ride I would jump on the game drive. Also, since we were in Zim we did a night game drive/bush dinner the day before the morning elephant ride. Night drives were not permitted in Chobe so this was another chance for us to do something different at a different location.

Let me know if you have any other questions.
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Jul 25th, 2005, 11:02 AM
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I agree that it is a good experience--not to see other wildlife , just to interact with the elephants. I think the company I used, on the Zim side was called The Elephant Company. But my experience was a bit different-- I was the only person that day...did the walk on the ellies back, which was nice, an interesting perspective. Afterwards had breakfast, and got to see how they trained the elephants using positive reinforcement techniques only. got to play with them a bit (tossing balls, etc...when I was playing with one, the other got jealous for attention so it tossed a ball over my way too. very interesting) and feed them some treats. I spoke with the manager over breakfast, and he was very knowledgeable about elephants, so I learned quite a bit.
These elephants are very well treated and have alot of freedom in the company of other elephants when they are not doing these walks (which they do seem to enjoy).

I would recommend this experience...it is quite a unique interaction with elephants. But is does not in any way replace a game drive, any more than the sundown cruise on the river does (which I also enjoyed and recommend...it was a fun way to enjoy the river and see a bit of wildlife too. )
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Jul 25th, 2005, 01:13 PM
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Here's a copy of my post in response to this question from another Fodorite. Definitely make advance reservations if you decide to do this.

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)

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/eerkun...rkun/my_photos

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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Jul 25th, 2005, 07:28 PM
  #5
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Thanks to all for replying. Eenusa you convinced me with your great report! Emailed my agent and had him make reservations! We're not going until October, so hopefully we'll be able to do that. When I was younger, went to Marine World/Africa USA in California and rode the elephant around in a circle, this sounds so much better! Thanks again!
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Jul 25th, 2005, 09:36 PM
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wonderful writing eenusa!
tashak is offline  
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Jul 25th, 2005, 10:28 PM
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Enjoyed the write-up and the photos very much! What sort of camera equipment did you use, eenusa?
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Jul 26th, 2005, 04:02 AM
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Glad you all enjoyed the writing. Writing trip journals is a hobby that takes on a life of it's own

matnikstym - have a great time and I hope you share your impressions and visual memories when you return.

One piece of advice, when you get to Vic Falls, have your lodge re-confirm the reservation. Sometimes the times change.

wanderlust123 - I took all my photos during the safari with a Sony DSC F-707 - a fairly big digital camera. I have now graduated to a Canon 20D DSLR (mostly because I want to be able to switch lenses depending on circumtances), but the Sony remains my back-up as I have been quite pleased with the overall results.
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