It’s not every day you visit an elephant farm. Weighing 12tons and standing at a height of 3.2meters, this giant beast is a sure sight to behold. Visiting an elephant farm can give even the strongest of human beings the jitters. Pilanesburg Park in Sun City, South Africa offered the opportunity to see, feel, feed them and learn first-hand how the park has been fighting poaching and the rapid extinction of elephants in Africa. Above-all, having lunch in an elephant park proved the ultimate experience. Omolala Itayemi writes
As part of the journalists on a working trip to South Africa in 2011 courtesy of South African tourism, visiting the elephant farm was one tourist attractions I thoroughly enjoyed and remains one of the most poignant trips I had ever embarked upon. Situated in Pilanesberg, the fourth largest national park in South Africa covering 142, 000 acres and happens to be the only national park in the hills, it’s stuck to 72 percent of it national history.
Visiting the elephant farm is meant to be the last tourist attraction for the day but somehow it was moved to the first activity of the day. As we approached, unlike the Braai or the bush there were less restrictions, well except a stern warning to avoid hugging the baby elephant. Who will hug a baby elephant that ordinarily weighs 90-120kg heavy? If we didn’t talk, our facial expressions showed what we were thinking but our guide told us such had happened when a tourist got overly emotional and tried to hug a baby elephant, the bedlam that followed was better imagined.
A little petrified, we stuck to ourselves as we tried to get accustomed to the putrid air emanating from the lake the elephants dwell in. The elephants numbering six including the baby elephants soaked in the water, pouring water from their trunks and generally living in their habitat. We found them too close and a few of us walked into the tuck shop to do some shopping with every elephant memoralabia from fabric to fibre.
The few brave ones walked closer to the elephants that just looked and walked away. I stayed back gazing at the wrinkles on the elephant’s skin. I had never seen so many wrinkles on one mammal before and their gargantuan size was quite intimidating. The elephant handler introduced himself and took us on an introductory phase of the farm, from the time grocery was sold off to generate revenue for the national park to farmers in Zimbabwe being given the opportunity to buy and have them in their households as pets. But how can you raise elephants as pets we all enquired?
“If you have elephants in your back yard, they are going to eat out of your house and homes, and that’s what the elephants did and we all agreed in the affirmative. Then the farmers came to us with a proposition. They offered to give their elephants, if they could be integrated into the safari business. So, we took them and put them through a taming process called positive enforcement, which if I’m permitted to say, is used on women I heard, he said jocularly.’’
There were still a huge amount of things to do with the elephants, the heaviest weighs five tons, and the tallest is the one in the water then (the rest had come out of water to dry land) and is 3.4 metres to the human shoulder. The tallest and heaviest elephant is 4.2 meters and weighs 12tons. “Back in the days, these guys used to be big when they resided in Kenya.
The bigger elephants are located in Masai-mara (a safari) in Kenya. Elephants live 60-65 years in the wild and in captivity life where they enjoy the best medical aid money can buy and the best in-treatment, add another 10-11 years making it a sum of 70-75 life spans and their ability to remember incidents is high,’’ he added.
The wrinkle on their body mass, which I found very fascinating, apparently does not denote old age. However its part of their genetic make-up and helps keep them warm at all time. According to the guide, their age can be determined by their height and how tall they can get. The female increases in height by 2.8- 3meters at most. A baby elephant at birth is about 80cm-1m in height and weighs 90-120kg heavy.’’
We learnt other very interesting bits about elephants including Amarula, the famous cream brandy with an elephant as the emblem. Amarula drink derived its name from one of the first elephants in the Pilanges National Park.
Other facts include the massive surge in illegal ivory trading which the park with its high security detail was free from but still a scourge. Details of this disturbing rise have been revealed despite the world ivory trading ban. Implemented on 18 January 1990, it was at first credited with halting the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of elephants.
But the recent growth in the Far East’s appetite for ivory – a status symbol for the middle classes of the region’s newly industrialised economies – has sent ivory prices soaring from £150 a kilo in 2004 to more than £4,000. At the same time, scientists estimated that between 8% and 10% of Africa’s elephants are now being killed each year to meet the demand. The world’s largest land animal is again threatened with widespread slaughter. “It is a really worrying situation,” said the elephant handler. “However, it still remains a scourge to be dealt with. Sanctions should be made stiffer for all both the poachers and the consumers,’ he added.
We got to feed the elephants and we were warned to send food through the trunk, a truly fulfilling experience which allowed me feel and touch those wrinkles. I was becoming more fascinated with, with time spent with them.
After this bonding process, we sat for lunch and despite the putrid smell it was one lunch we all thoroughly enjoyed. And yes, you can raise elephants as pets, well, the South African way.