Walking with Elephants in Botswana

Walking with Elephants in Botswana, Dania, a member of our sales team, just got back from 5 months exploring East and Southern Africa. As part of her trip she visited a group of semi-habituated elephants in the Okavango Delta. The elephants ‘take’ guests on long walks, foraging, showing travelers how they look for food, stripping leaves from branches with their long trunks and taking baths in the Delta’s lagoons. This is one of the most unique and authentic elephant interactions available in Africa and we are happy to be able to bring you her first-hand account of the experience.

“Waking up to the sound of monkeys scampering in the trees and birds singing their hearts out, Matt and I looked over at each other smiling, both thinking the same thing: today is going to be an incredible day full of adventure and new experiences. It’s true that veryday on safari is different than the last, always keeping you on your toes, but today we had something extra special planned which we were sure would be a trip highlight.

Walking with Elephants in Botswana, Doug and Sandi Groves the elephants' caregivers_Life Through a Lens Photography

Doug and Sandi Groves the elephants’ caregivers_Life Through a Lens Photography

This morning we were set to participate in a half day elephant interaction. Only our camp, Stanley’s camp, and one other, Baines camp (both owned by Sanctuary and located in the Okavango Delta) are able to be involved in this activity, ensuring relatively small groups and private encounters. After being dropped off at our meeting point, we were joined by a family of four before being taken to meet Doug Groves, the elephant master. Doug grew up in America but has been working closely with elephants and promoting elephant awareness and conservation in Botswana with his wife for about 20 years. He’s a short, skinny man with a beard that looks as though it hasn’t been trimmed since he left the USA- not the kind of muscular man you’d expect to see working with massive elephants.He’s also incredibly gentle and patient, qualities that make him a wonderful guide for nervous, questioning tourists, and an even better trainer (and seemingly father figure) for his three huge, beloved elephants.

Walking with Elephants in Botswana, Dania and Matt with Jabu

Dania and Matt with Jabu

Marula (female), Thembe (female), and Jabu (male), are Doug’s overgrown babies. Their size and strength is impressive, but what is even more astounding is their comprehension of any and all orders and requests that come out of Doug’s mouth. Since these amazing animals have an incredible sense of hearing, there is never any need to yell or raise your voice at all, unlike what you would have gathered from circus acts or fairs. Jabu would happily prance in circles, showing off his body from 360° immediately after Doug says the word. Marula would steal one of our hats, placing it sneakily on her own head, when Doug gives the go ahead. And Thembe would swing her trunk wildly when Doug indicated, giving the crowd a wonderful show that we couldn’t help but encourage by swinging our own arms frantically as well.

We spent the day learning about these majestic animals, always having our questions thoughtfully and intelligently answered by Doug. What do elephants eat? How high in the food chain are they?What sorts of emotions do they experience? Do they mate for life? Would they recognize and respond to Doug if they were separated for a year? We were able to touch the ellies and feel their rough skin, smooth trunks, and slimey nostrils. We heard the difference in meaning behind their range of sounds. We fed them, played with them, and really felt as though we bonded with them. We even had a picnic lunch with them and were sent off at the end of the day with a big, wet kiss on the cheek from Jabu!

Walking with Elephants in Botswana, The perfect lunch guest!

The perfect lunch guest!

Just as we had anticipated, it was a trip highlight we will never forget. Elephants are incredible no matter what distance you see them from, but to really learn about them in depth- their very human like emotions and needs- adds drastically to your respect for them. Having this experience early on in our safari made all our subsequent elephant sightings that much more meaningful because of our newly acquired knowledge and love for them.

-be prepared for a five hour outing. Sunscreen, hat, closed toe shoes, water are necessary.
-bring a camera- you’ll be mad at yourself if you don’t!
-it’s perfectly safe, but visitors must be respectful and quiet. If your child is noisy or restless it may upset the elephants. Probably not recommended for children under 9 years (there are age restrictions of 12 and 9 respectively at Baines and Stanley Camps)
-book in advance, not always possible to book on arrival.

Other Details

2013 Rates:
6 – 14 January, 15 February – 31 March: $254 per person
1 April – 14 June, 1 November – 5 January 2014: $356 per person
15 June – 31 October: $448 per person

2014 Rates:
6 – 14 January, 15 February – 31 March: $264 per person
1 April – 14 June, 1 November – 5 January 2015: $370 per person
15 June – 31 October: $466 per person

2015 Rates:
6 – 14 January, 15 February – 31 March: $264 per person
1 April – 14 June, 1 November – 5 January 2015: $380 per person
15 June – 31 October: $480 per person

The elephants are on “leave” from 15 January to 15 February each year.

For more information email [email protected]