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Meeting the Elephants

By Cecily Muller

Elephant Interaction at Stanley's Camp

I’ve just spent three days in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, staying at Stanleys Camp for two nights and at Chiefs Camp for the third night. It felt as if I had been away for a month! I experienced so many amazing and awesome moments, the most special of which was the interaction with the elephants at Stanleys Camp -  Jabu, Tembe and Morula.

We met the elephants on our second day in Botswana. After a delicious breakfast we were transferred to the trio of elephants where we also met Doug Groves who, together with his wife, Sandi, has cared for these elephants since 1988. He first set down some rules before we were introduced to Jabu, a proud and handsome bull who enjoys his role as the Alpha male of the small herd. We were then invited one by one to stand with Jabu and were allowed to touch him, to feel the difference in the skin of his legs, armpits and trunk, whilst Doug was chatting to us about elephants. Standing underneath the head of an elephant while touching his trunk and leg is indeed very special. Different emotions rush through you – you’re scared and wonder how you can even dream of standing underneath such a huge animal;  yet you are also awestruck by the trust and tranquility you feel around him.  Jabu short for Jabulani, a common Zulu name, means Happiness and indeed Jabu's zest for life is inspiring.  He is kind, playful, generous, big-hearted and dependable. Of the three elephants he is the most independent and confident. After the introduction to Jabu, we then met Tembe and Morula. The end of the tail of an elephant feels like fencing wire!  Thembi, short for Thembigela, is a common Zulu name meaning Trust. Thembi is the sweetheart of the herd and the smallest in stature. Smart and very social, she loves to be the centre of attention.  Morula weaves a powerful magic of her own as in her quiet and subtle way she captures your heart with her sincere, loyal and sweet nature.

After ample time for having your photograph taken with the elephants, you then accompany the herd on their foraging trek. You are invited by Doug to walk in front of the elephants. Morula placed her trunk on my shoulder and gently steered me in the direction she wanted to go. I cannot begin to explain how small, but at the same time how special, I felt. Imagine leading a trio of elephants through the bush! All guests are given the opportunity to experience this. The walk, through the stunning scenery of the Okavango Delta with its huge trees and grass plains, lasts approximately one hour.

Lunch is then served under the shade of  huge Sausage trees with the elephants in close proximity.  You are given a final opportunity after lunch for a photo with Jabu when he stands next to you at the table. His trunk actually pushes against the table! Doug then gets Jabu and Morula to demonstrate the various sounds that they make before Morula gives each guest a goodbye kiss. You are then officially a member of the “Living with Elephants” foundation.

Doug and Sandi strive to give Jabu, Thembi and Morula a life that is as close to elephants' natural lives as possible, yet one that is cushioned from the enormous pressures, insecurities and challenges with which wild elephants are confronted. The Groves vowed from the beginning never to compromise the quality of life and security their elephants need. They are proud that their trio live a life so near to that of wild elephants that they even share grazing grounds. Currently, Grey Matters, Doug and Sandi's Botswana-based company, supports the elephant Trio through educational-based eco-tourism. Through Grey Matters international visitors have the opportunity, through Jabu, Thembi and Morula, to foster a kinship with the African elephant.

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