Ever wanted to get up close and personal with an African elephant? So close that you can peer inside their cavernous mouths, hold their weighty trunks or gaze into their heavily-lashed eyes?
Most tourist’s experience of elephants if usually from the confines of a 4x4, a hot air balloon or another vehicle located some distance from these mighty mammals, but if you join a Grey Matters trip in Botswana’s famous Okavango Delta you can literally become part of an elephant herd for a day. Grey Matters allows you to accompany their three elephants on foot as they forage for food or mud bathe in the amazing wetlands of Botswana.
Doug and Sandi Groves took the three elephants Jabu, Thembi and Morula under their wing when they were orphaned in Kruger National Park, South Africa and Zimbabwe about 20 years ago. They have cared for them ever since deep in the heart of the Moremi Reserve, hoping to provide the elephants with more quality of life and security than wild elephants are usually afforded.
The elephants’ lives are as close to those of wild elephants as possible. The Groves watch over them by day, along with the help of Leano, a baYei tribal member from Northwestern Botswana. If you wish to join Doug and the elephants out in the wild, your adventure will start in the morning meeting Jabu, Thembi and Morula. Jabu is the proud bull who serves as the alpha of the herd while Thembi is the baby and center of attention and Morula is far more mild-natured and sensitive.
Once the elephants have become accustomed to your presence you will be invited closer to them. You can feel their tusks, look at their teeth, stroke their hairy trunks and lift their ears. Everything about these animals is gigantic, but their behavior is incredibly gentle. And unlike wild elephants these ones will allow you to approach them with ease.
Much of the day is spent walking with the elephants as they go about their morning routines through the wetlands of the Okavango Delta. You are accompanied by a trained and armed guide at all times so have no fear of other animals. This may mean grazing, bathing in a mud or having a long drink. As you follow them through these activities in the floodplains their personalities will become clearer.
Doug has been studying elephants since 1972 and will fill you in on important details about their lives and habits. He may also explain how each elephant came into his care and the journey they have taken as they have become more socially, emotionally and physically mature.
For example Jabu was only waist-high on Doug when he first arrived, now he stands over three meters in height. As the male of the herd his role is an integral one of protection and team support. Thembi on the other hand is a lot smaller and she too loves to protect her herd members but she has been known to be a little overzealous in this role. Thembi is the socialite of the herd and loves a bit of elephant salad.
Both Jabu and Thembi came to Doug when they were calves, but Morula was already 17 years old and quite a lonely and damaged elephant. The journey with her has been more difficult however she has responded to the love and attention the Grove’s have given her and remains quiet, loyal and sweet natured.
By the end of the day, the Groves hope you will have fostered a kinship with the African elephant through your experiences with Jabu, Thembi and Morula and take with you something of new appreciation for the gentle giants. The tour ends with a picnic lunch for all deep in the wilds of Botswana.