The African continent has always been susceptible to cruel and brutal scenes – but brutality at the hands of humanity has never been more pronounced than in the past years’ unrelenting poaching scenes. Across the African continent, between 35,000 and 38,000 elephants are killed at the hand of poachers per year. This figure for 2013 is higher than ever before. There are definite warnings that South Africa’s elephants can be the next big poaching target, causing a severe situation as currently faced by the rhino. Central Africa’s elephant population is already at the point of exhaustion. Yet, these brutal scenes can draw man and the animal kingdom closer to each other. And this is exactly what happens if young orphaned elephants are placed in foster human care, and meticulously trained to soften human hearts.
This then describes the tale of three young elephants: Bulelo, Jabari and Malaika. Hailing from the Kruger National Park, these three young Savannah elephants were left orphaned by a poaching onslaught eleven years ago. Young elephants can hardly survive without the support structure of a community – hence why these youngsters were placed in an elephant sanctuary. But their purpose was much greater than merely living their days in foster care. A decade of intense training followed and today these three are the pride of Buffelsdrift Game Lodge where they interact with man, while in the comfort of a protected natural environment.
Trained to perform various tasks and even playful gestures, these three youngsters are something special. It is on the back of these young gentle giants that their true nature soars. At a slow but steady pace, these three youngsters take visitors on a tour through the park, stopping leisurely for water drinking and perhaps a quick bite on a thorn bush or two. Elephants are animals of habit and routine, and nothing escapes their memory. Taking visitors out and about, the youngsters are always in the same order, the matriarch Malaika in the centre, flanked by the two bulls Bulelo and Jabari. Along the ride, small herds of springbok and other small mammals pass by, including the park’s hippo family.
Riding trained elephants such as Bulelo, Jabari and Malaika allows the opportunity of coming intensely close with nature and its greatest icons. It also highlights the serious threat Africa’s giants are facing. Touching, listening and feeling, the elephant ride ends too soon. But it urges everyone who experiences this, to tell others about the need for elephant protection. On the trainer’s cue, they greet with heartwarming final trumpeter, although it leaves you far from convinced of a safe future for these giants.