Week 1: Knysna Forest
Our first week with EDGE of AFRICA started with a day exploring the wilds of the Knysna forests. We were introduced to the local forest and wildlife expert called Hynie Tredoux (a merge of Crocodile Dundee and David Attenborough). We had previously watched a documentary on the Knysna Forest elephants and hoped to be lucky in spotting one of only three officially reported elephants. Hynie identified and introduced an unbelievable amount of flora and fauna to us and after 2 hours on the trail we stopped for a drink and were informed we had only covered around 800m. The rest of the hike was completed at a slightly quicker pace but no less interesting, and by the end of our trail we were more aware of the wildlife in the forest and started to identify tree and plant life ourselves. Our less than silent travel through the forest maybe the reason we weren’t lucky enough to see the elusive forest elephant.
Addo Elephant National Park
An EDGE of AFRICA organized trip to Addo Elephant Park was next for us. The four hour trip flew by with the prospects of seeing the Big Five especially elephants. Setting up the tents took longer than expected due to the strong South African “breezes”! Because of the windy delay we unfortunately didn’t have enough daylight left to go to the for a game drive so instead Jo and Joash organized for us to go to the Reptile and Raptor centre. As we were learning about them, reptiles were continuously placed on us whether we wanted it or not! These included gecko’s, a skink, ever increasing sizes of snakes and toads. With time running out and darkness setting in we were led into an enclosure where we met Jack the friendly owl. He was enticed with treats to land on various body parts ending up sitting on a surprised Eavanna’s head! The tour finished by meeting a brand new 4 week old fluff ball baby owl (very cute!). Thanks to Darren for introducing and educating us to your animals. Our first evening at Addo ended with a delicious braai cooked by our very own Joash, Jo and Eavanna- thanks guys!
Day 2 started early for our first game drive. With our eager faces pushed up against the windows we got the hang of spotting animals, a lot of warthog, kudu and tortoises later we were wondering if any elephant existed here. Luckily Liam needed a loo break so we stopped at a game hide and spotted our first elephant around a watering hole yay! This started off our elephant survey with GPS position, sex and group size being taken down. During the next 6 hours we were lucky enough to spot many more elephants, jackals, birds of prey, red hearty beast, eland, ostriches and enough warthogs to make Lion King 4! We then headed back to stretch our legs, have a drink and for those that needed it a nicotine fix before heading out on an evening game drive. This drive brought us within touching distance of a herd of elephant that had decided to make the road their next chosen feeding ground. It was amazing to see these beautiful animals (and young babies) so close up. The evening consisted of another delicious dinner and after few beers everyone headed for there tents in hurricane Addo.
There was enough time in the morning of day 3 for a quick game drive. We were on the hunt for lions as they had been spotted earlier in the day; unfortunately we got there just too late but did get to drive through a big herd of buffalo. After saying goodbye to Addo we packed up our things and headed home a little less enthusiastically than the journey there.
Week 2: Tuesday
Our first day at the Elephant Sanctuary, we got up at 6am and made our way with Jo and Larissa to The Crags Elephant Park just past Plettenberg Bay.
When we arrived we were armed with waterproof ponchos and Jo organized us to do the Elephant tour with the trunk in hand walk. We got to meet the three ellie’s that are mostly used for the tours; Marula, Jabu and Thandi. After some other members of our tour gave the elephants their morning scrub we were invited to take one each on a trunk in hand walk. The elephant’s handler told us to stand in front of them with our right hand out facing behind us, the elephant then placed the tip of their trunk in our hand. We walked them into the forest where we had a meet and greet. This involved each handler showing us different actions of natural elephant behaviour. Thandi shook, Jabu blew and Marula knelt. We were then introduced to the ellies and were allowed to touch different parts of their body to know how it felt. After leading them back out of the forest we then got to feed them which was their favourite part!
After a quick tea break, we got down to our ellie observation task. Firstly this involved identifying who was who (which is hard to begin with but easier with Jo’s help and knowing what to look for!), choosing two each and watching for certain behaviours. For example if Marula touched Thandi’s bum we would have to note the time of the bum touching, the two ellies involved in the bum touching and who initiated/received the bum touch! Seeing as elephants eat for up to 20 hours a day there often wasn’t many interactions to note down but it was a pleasure to sit and watch these gentle giants.
After a quick lunch, we were asked to do some painting in the new handler and elephant accommodation. The painting got a bit messy and we came out looking like we had serious dandruff problems. (a few paint fights may have been involved too!)
After clearing everything away this completed our first day, so we headed home possibly snoozing along the way!
Up early again, today was harder than yesterday! Jo (who travels every elephant day from Plettenberg to Knysna at 5 in morning) came and picked us up and drove us back past her house to the elephant sanctuary! (good old Jo!)
Today started with us getting stuck in clearing and sweeping out the ellie stables. You become very quickly more accustomed to ellie poo when your knee deep in it! We were then asked to collect together all the sticks and twigs from the elephants night enclosure.
After lunch we continued helping by painting poison (not human or ellie poison) on the connectors of the electric fences around the elephant enclosure. The solution should prevent spider webs being made as they disrupt the electric fence current.
After all of our hard work of the morning we were rewarded with a few more hours of elephant observation study. Today we felt a lot more comfortable identifying each elephant without looking at the helpful guide sheet.
Day three and we dragged ourselves out of bed. After sleeping our way to the sanctuary we set about our familiar task of poo clearance and remaking the elephant’s sawdust based beds.
Our next task seemed simple at first and was to rake the stick cleared elephant night enclosure to make it look snazzy for the visiting tourists. After two and a half hours of raking in the hot sun we had successfully cleared half the enclosure and it did indeed look snazzy. Exhausted yet satisfied with our work we collapsed down for lunch and a few more hours of conservation study.
Week 3: Workshops
This week as part of our everything elephant project we visited local schools and youth centres around our area and carried our workshops on elephant anatomy and social behaviour. In the week we visited pre-schools (Judah Square, Siyafunda) with kids aged from 2-5 where we did colouring in, and cutting and sticking exercises all about elephants. We taught at a local orphanage with kids aged from 3-17. A little trickier to include all ages in the lesson but we managed it by each group drawing and labelling their own elephant. Following this was an elephant based word search and a fun interactive test that included everybody. With the skills and workshops we had created we also visited local youth centres, Sinethemba and Mad about Art. Although this all sounds very teacher like, we spent most of our time playing games, messing about with the kids and being human jungle gyms! We will take many fun and happy memories away with us and loved every minute of being a kid again!