18 September 2013

{Adventures With Elephants}

While in Bela Bela earlier this month, Jurg and I were able to spend an afternoon interacting with six incredible African elephants.  During this time we touched them, fed them, played with them {even kissed them!} and really got to know each elephant individually.  It's unbelievable how they develop their own distinct personalities, which become apparent within minutes of meeting them.  Despite their different demeanors and characteristics though, every single one had the kindest eyes and the most caring disposition.  They really are gentle giants.  It was a remarkable experience and something very, very different from the ordinary.


Adventures with Elephants facilitates the interactions and the company has an extraordinarily unique story, littered with tragedy.  Run by the Hensman family, Rory Hensman initially purchased two orphaned elephants to roam free on his Zimbabwe game farm in the 1980's, but quickly {and unexpectedly} developed a close relationship with the elephants and began teaching them basic commands.  Before he knew it, the same elephants were heading up an anti-poaching unit spanning across the Zambezi valley.  As his reputation grew, he found himself acquiring more and more 'problem' elephants until he had reached a group of twelve in 2000.  He worked hard to develop a relationship of mutual trust and respect with each and every one.

Devastatingly, in 2002 the Hensmans were forcibly removed from their farm by the Mugabe regime as part of land reform measures {to read more about this see here}.  With only a matter of hours to flee the country, their main concern involved getting their elephants off the property and safely across the South African border.  In the sheer desperation of the situation, they were forced to enter into a verbal agreement with a South African farmer, which inevitably turned sour once they arrived.  Having fled to South Africa without any assets or property, the family agreed to enter into employment with the farmer as labourers in an effort to slowly earn the elephants back.  Eventually though, the conditions became so unbearable that they were forced to move on and start a new life with new elephants elsewhere.

As you may have already guessed, the family ultimately decided to settle in Bela Bela and have since worked to slowly build Adventures with Elephants into what it is today.  All six of their current elephants were previously orphaned or flagged as 'problem' animals and were on the extermination list due to species overpopulation in certain areas.  Adventures with Elephants advocates ethical conservation and the elephants seem to enjoy the interaction just as much as their human counterparts.  They're absolutely magnificent and extremely intelligent... even cheeky.  It's difficult to imagine anyone ever tagging them for extermination.

If you ever find the opportunity to visit Adventures with Elephants, I highly recommend it.  The experience is once-in-a-lifetime material and I cannot imagine supporting a more deserving company involved in a more deserving cause.  We're hoping to go back for another visit soon!  During the summer they even offer a swim with the elephants option.  Can you imagine?!


Adventures with Elephants is open 7 days a week from 8am - 5pm, with interactions taking place three times daily.  It's located in the Bela Bela region near the Zebula Golf Estate and Spa.  For both locals and visitors alike, the experience is a must and will be an absolute highlight of your visit, I promise!  Tickets are R495 {$50} per adult and interactions last one hour.  For more information visit their site here.

Side note: We're off on a road trip through the Kingdom of Lesotho at the end of the week and I'm over-the-moon excited about it.  Follow along on instagram here!

60 comments:

  1. Oooh I'm doing mine next week Tuesday as an early birthday gift from Cedric!
    I'm super excited!!!!!!! :)
    http://johced-ourjourneytoeverywhere.blogspot.com/
    xxx

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    1. Ah, you're going to love it! You're doing the one in Hartbeespoort right!? Can't wait to see pictures.

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  2. How cool that you got to go there?! Elephants are so cute and, as you say, really are so distinct :)
    Enjoy your trip through Lesotho!

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    1. Isn't it crazy how they each have such a unique personality? It's amazing! So excited for our Lesotho trip :)

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    1. I know :) You guys should try to do it sometime while on one of your bush excursions!

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  4. Looka like an amazing experience, so jealous!

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    1. It was definitely something I'll never forget! Hope you're able to visit one day and have a similar experience :)

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  5. Mind = blown! Jenna, I am so ridiculously pumped that you got to experience this in real life (and really jealous that I wasn't by your side). What beautiful creatures and such a fascinating back story on the ranch. So cool!

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    1. I wish you were by my side... it would have been that much more fun :)

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  6. I had meant to come and let you know I'd linked you in my post, but I completely forgot.

    I think your blog is going to be my things to do bible. This looks amazing. Incredible. I love the way you share the stories behind what you do and where you go. It makes for wonderful reading.

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    1. Thanks so much Amy... If I'm ever in Angola or Libya you will be my bible! Adventures with Elephants is just down the road from Itaga Private Lodge... it's a win win situation ;) Have a wonderful time in Pilanesberg!

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  7. I have an obsession with elephants. I would be over the moon excited to be able to do this. Thanks for posting all of the lovely pictures!

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    1. I hope you're able to visit or do something similar sometime - it's incredible!

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  8. AMAZING!! And you know how I love my ellies :)
    x

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    1. Yep... so much that they made it into your blog name... love it :)

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  9. Ok - I am insanely jealous. This makes me even more annoyed(??) that I've been to SA twice and just retraced my steps both times. Here's to a third time and new places! (all stolen from your blog).

    By the way, you guys are like the KINGS of weekend trips!

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    1. But you retraced your steps to a baboon sanctuary! That is the most amazing place to retrace your steps ever! Next time you're out in SA we'll all go on a road trip together :)

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  10. this looks like the perfect date -- something you'd see on the bachelorette :) such fun, hopefully my husband and i get our own elephant adventure one day :)

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    1. Funny enough, I hadn't thought of it as a date... but I guess it sort of was! And the best kind of date ever :) I hope you and your husband are able to make a trip to Africa soon!

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  11. Wow, this looks incredible! So cool you were able to experience elephants up close like this! xoxo

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    1. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime!

      ps. When are you and Cam visiting SA? ;)

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  12. ah, I want to do this so sadly! I'm trusting it was just as much fun as the pictures make it out to be.
    ps you're going to Lesotho? you two never stop moving! I love it.

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    1. It was incredible! If you make another trip up to Jo'burg, you guys will have to visit yourselves :)

      We're off to Lesotho tomorrow and I couldn't be more excited, although a cold front is moving in they're expecting lots of snow. I'm going to have to bundle up! Such a baby when it comes to cold weather.

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  13. So, so cool Jenna.

    (As an aside, I love that Jurgen always has a strap on his sunglasses. I feel like it's his signature item.)

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    1. Jurgen and I were dying of laughter when your comment came through on my phone last night... because it's so true! He's been in love with those things since he spent a semester studying in South Carolina in 2009. Just the other day he was telling me that the reason my sunglasses are so scratched is because I don't wear them on a strap like he does ;) Totally his signature item!

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  14. What an incredible experience! And the conservationist in me loves that the elephants all come from situations where it was in their best interest to be taken in, as opposed to ones taken from wild family groups just for tourist attractions.
    Seriously, I love that you both embrace and celebrate your opportunities in SA!

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    1. Yes, definitely! I always look into the ethics of companies like this before taking part. And these elephants really and truly seemed happy. They roam free throughout the day and come in on their own free will for interactions at selected times. Too sweet :)

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  15. I love your photos! What an experience.. This is definitely on my bucket list of places to visit.

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    1. I hope you're able to visit soon! South Africa is a wonderful place to travel, not only for the wildlife, but also for the oceans, vineyards, culture and food. Can't go wrong!

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  16. OMG I've always wanted to interact with elephants! I need to go.

    www.thecrackedlensblog.wordpress.com

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  17. We surprised my mom for her birthday last year - she has always dreamed of being able to interact with elephants!
    They also told us that the elephants will remember you in 20 years time by your smell.
    How amazing is that?
    Was the little meerkat still there?

    Your close up of the elephant is a beauty.

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    1. So amazing that you did the same thing! Such an incredible place. From what I know, the meerkat is still there, but Shaun wasn't in that day so he wasn't around :/

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  18. This sounds amazing! Trying to go to Africa in April with some friends, I am gonna pass this along! XO

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    1. Oh, that's wonderful! Where in Africa are you guys thinking of going? April is a great time to visit... not too hot and not too cold :)

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  19. You are KILLING me! ELEPHANTS!!! I love elephants!

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  20. This looks AMAZING. It's going on my list of things to do!

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  21. OHHH my goodness, i just found your blog through the nectar collective and it made me miss South Africa SO much. At least now I can live there again vicariously through you haha ;) I posted my pictures of the elephants here (http://shelbysmouth.blogspot.com/2013/02/safari-part-1.html) it looks like we did the same kind of thing! So glad I found your blog, Cheers!

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    1. Your post looks incredible! I've been to the Cango Caves and bungeed off bloukrans, but that animal interaction place doesn't look familiar... where were you guys? :)

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    2. wellll those zebras were just wild along the garden route, and the elephants were at Oudtshoorn Elephant Company somewhere along there too haha. I was living in Muizenberg for a bit and and a friend of mine, hippie Dave, runs tours out of there.He's the one in my bungee picture, he's is SUCH a blast if your ever down around there and feel like having someone else plan a trip for you :)

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    3. Too amazing. I've been to Oudtshoorn, but have somehow missed the elephant company! We'll have to stop over on our next trip out. Muizenberg is such a perfect little beach town... I (sort of) tried to learn to surf there when I first moved to SA :)

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  22. Oh how WONDERFUL Jenna! We went to a similar sanctuary down in Knysna during our visit and David literally had to pull me away I loved it so much. Gentle giants is the perfect description and they each had such distinct personalities. Bela Bela sounds so incredibly lovely. Adding it to the list for our next trip down!

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    1. Ah, I know. Elephants just seem to have this aura about them :) Were you guys at Addo by any chance, we haven't been and are hoping to visit in December.

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  23. This looks like such a great experience! I love elephants--a few years back I went to Nepal and got to see twin baby elephants, which is extremely rare. They were the cutest things! I went on a three week trip to South Africa in May & June of this year and loved it, so I look forward to reading more of your posts!!

    Améliorer la Vie

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    1. Elephants and Nepal!? That sounds like the best combo ever... Nepal is number one on the tippy top of my bucket list!

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  24. Gosh, this is just amazing! I absolutely adore elephants. They were the topic of the first report I ever wrote, and because my aunt had just gotten back from a honeymoon spent traveling throughout Africa, I had real pictures to accompany it. I've been awaiting the day when I can meet a few of my own since then.

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    1. So incredible that your Aunt went on a honeymoon through Africa... something quite different from the usual, especially back then :) You need to make a plan to visit SA asap... you'll love it!

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  25. Omg, your adventures just keep getting better and better jenna! :) I adore that photo of you and the elephant that looks so happy, how precious!!

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    1. They are incredibly precious aren't they! One thing I loved about Adventures with Elephants was that all of them looked happy, healthy and well cared for :)

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  26. so fun!!! i want to have a day with elephants!

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  27. so, it's official - I need to come to South Africa. I want to hang out with the elephants! this looks like so much fun!

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    1. Yep, it's official... you definitely do!

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  28. beautiful pics!! check out my new travel blog and follow it if you like it, please! http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/10836495/christie-kanani

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  29. I'm in love with these photos! Look at the cute wrinkles on the elephants. And I agree with Kaity... a trip to South Africa is in my near future. Hopefully. :)

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    1. Umm, Rachel... I love that the word 'near' is included in this sentence. I hope you're serious! Would LOVE to meet you in person :)

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  30. what an AMAZING experience. this is on my life to-do list! xo jillian - cornflake dreams

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  31. So (healthily) jealous of this experience. I plan to make it my own someday ;)

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Thanks for commenting! I love reading each and every one of them :)