Travel: a few minutes from home

Published: July 8th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

The Art of Travel is, well, just that, an art, some have made it a fine art. But how far does one have to travel to find that exact spot?
Do you travel far and wide, or do you find it on your front doorstep?

It's wonderful that people do travel the world to find those outlandish places, learn about old and interesting things and it's wonderful that they come to my part of the world.

My home is in The Crags, a semi-rural area just 20km East of the popular coastal town of Plettenberg Bay. Plett is in the Garden Route which is the southern part of the Western Cape in South Africa.

Travel for me is a few minutes from home!

At the kitchen window each morning, I look out across the Buffels River Gorge to the Elephant Sanctuary. There six orphaned ellies begin their day as a family. Five females and one male. And just a little to the right I can see the dome of Birds of Eden, the largest free-flight sanctuary in the world. Their early morning chorus blends with the sounds of the Howler monkeys and the clamouring calls for breakfast of the other 16 species of monkeys at Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary.

But today, I want to talk about the Ellies.

First, an introduction:
Mopani is the eldest - and although by age, she should be the Matriarch, because she was kept as a pet, she lost her natural ability to lead.
Marula, the second eldest, is a fine Matriarch in the making
Then comes Jabu & Thandi. Thandi can be a real tittle-tale, especially when Thabo (the male) is being naughty.
Last but not least, the baby, is Tumela.

And although Mopani doesn't lead the pack, she has become the surrogate mother for Tumela.

For the ordinary Jo (that would be me) the thought of bringing up an elephant wouldn't cross my mind. Of course there are some people who think elephant rearing is fine, until the elephant gets to big and then, well, then what?? Can't dump an elephant on the side of the road now can you? You need to find someone like Chris Kruger who knows what he is doing. ("well, sometimes!" he says)

Granted he had lived for many years in Botswana looking after wild animals on those fabulous game reserves out there, but this was something altogether different. Actually hands-on looking after elephants. Six orphaned elephants. Two of them had had the tips of their trunks mutliated by snares, one, an unwanted housepet (yes!) and the others orphaned by poachers.

So Chris buys some land here in The Crags. His idea is that he'll make this disparate group of Elephants into a family unit - tight-knit and secure. Then release them back into the wild, in a place where they can roam and breed and just be together. Elephants need to have a lot of love & structure and education before they can look after themselves. Just like us.

So the Elephants are now at school - they are awfully clever and can therefore also be very naughty! So Chris has to devise all sorts of interesting entertainment for them - educational of course. Piles of wattle branches are placed in different areas across the field. Each pile belongs to an elephant, rather like a desk at school. There they pick through the branches, chewing on the leaves. "It's their paint box" said Chris, "they love inspecting the branches, placing them 'just so'".

There used to be a great burly flourishing tree in the centre of their field. It's debarked and dead now. Another hit with the ellies! "I tried all sorts of things to save the tree, but the Ellies were having none of it'" said Chris "it's provided some of their best entertainment - I wish I had more for them."

Thabo is very alert - and he has pretensions towards being the Elephant Houdini. He knows how to open the gates. During the day it is fine, but at night Chris has set an electric wire on the gate. Being super sensitive Thabo can sense when it's on, or off. If it is off, Mr Thabo Houdini is out for a stroll amidst the sanctuary's cycads. But his sister Thandi knows he's being a bad boy and sounds the alarm and Chris gets up to take him back to his stable. "If we have a power cut, I park my car in front of the gate and wait for Thabo. He sneaks up and as he unlatches the gate I switch the car lights on. Then he acts all surprised ‘goodness, how did that gate get here??’ sort of thing and he saunters off back to his stable and waits for me to switch the lights off and go to sleep and then he tries again.”

It is such a special place to visit: the Sanctuary teaches you about respect; about interaction and how privileged we are to have these moment with them before they leave for their great adventure in their natural home.

Check out the website: and better still - go and visit!!


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