Without hesitation, one of the best moments of my life was the hour I spent walking with the elephants at Knysna Elephant Park, located just outside of Knysna* on South Africa’s stunning Garden Route. Before heading to South Africa, I knew animal sightings were going to be an important part of my SA memories, but I didn’t anticipate getting close to them, or at least not as close as I got to them at KEP.
There are a range of visit options at KEP. I went with the standard daily tour (R220 or approximately CAD$24.50/USD$24.15 as of April 2013), which involves a short educational video, then a detailed tour through the elephants’ habitat and opportunities to ask the handlers questions. There was also a pretty reasonable list of ele rules which I committed to memory.
I also bought the optional bucket of elephant food (R30 or approximately CAD$3.35/USD$3.29 as of April 2013), a small bucket of pineapples, beets, carrots and lettuce to give to my new elephant friend.
After a quick look around the elephants’ sleeping areas (and the lodge where humans can have “sleepovers” with the eles), we headed out to the marshalling area to take a tractor down to the elephant encounter area.
There is no dignified way to describe my reaction to seeing elephants up close and personal. It was a high-pitched squeak that sounded something like “EEEEEEEEEE!”
I got out of the trailer and was introduced to my guide, David, who explained the basics of elephant behaviour. Then, the first part of my elephant experience – feeding time! The eles knew the drill and lined up behind a bar when they saw me coming with my little bucket of fresh fruit and veggies.
For this part of the experience, the advice was straightforward: “Watch your bucket, the eles move fast and will try to sneak food out of it.”
Here is a picture of a grinning idiot travel blogger living one of the greatest moments of her life, feeding a beet to an elephant:
After feeding, it was time to walk with the elephants. Since this was my first elephant experience, I was terrified of spooking the elephants or getting stepped on. Through David, I learned they are quite used to humans being around and gave me the go-ahead to approach one of the larger female elephants.
While I was petting away merrily, a small group formed around me, which resulted in my favourite picture of me ever taken.
The rest of my visit was spent getting to know the eles we encountered while strolling around the fields at KEP. As we met the eles, David told me about their stories and their personalities. It’s funny to learn which ones are the protectors and which ones are the pranksters. Some can be quite mischievous, and while I didn’t witness any elephant pranks, I did get to interview the eles about their favourite grasses and vegetables.
The short version: all of the elephants are lovely and my time with them passed far too quickly. In what seemed like a flash of time, I was back on the tractor back to home base, watching the elephants disappear behind me.
*Knysna: pronounced “Nys-na” as in “Nice, na?”
See for yourself:
Knysna Elephant Park
Located between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay on Highway N2
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