I am not one to often visit the various reserves and wild life centres that have sprouted up near popular holiday destinations. We have always preferred spotting wildlife in their more ‘natural’ habitat, for example, the Kruger National Park, and tend to be sceptical of the more ‘canned’ setups.
But with young boys, and a holiday in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, we received an invitation to visit the Elephant Sanctuary at The Crags, in Plettenberg Bay. On arrival it is evident that this is not your average commercial venture. As I waited to book in, I overheard the receptionist gently answer a telephonic enquiry that elephant riding is not the emphasis of the sanctuary, but rather coming to learn and understand more about these gentle giants. Every guide we encountered was exceptionally polite and knowledgeable, with Patrick, our host, striking the balance between instructing his guests (and the elephants!), while remaining welcoming and friendly.
First up was an opportunity to walk ‘hand in trunk’ with an ellie as we traipsed through a short forest walk. I cannot say that the prospect of being covered in elephant ‘snot’ was appealing, and yet holding onto this surprisingly weighty appendage, while realising that a mighty mass was amiably following me without trampling me, was somewhat awe inspiring. Two of the three elephants we visited, Jabu and Maroela, had lost the tips of their trunks through traps when they were young, and the task of feeding them was thus to lay food just on the inside of their trunks, rather than right into their noses, as we could do for Thandi.
Each elephant was directed by a separate guide, who then allowed our children to pat the elephant’s rough skin, stroke behind his ear and tap his elbow and ankles, all the while informing us of their respective functions and peculiarities. Learning of a separate tear duct between their eyes and alert ears made me want to shed a tear, as elephants often do! At no point were the elephants asked to perform or demonstrate an unnatural circus move, but rather they blew, shook their heads and knelt down as they would in the wild.
On being dismissed, the elephants trundled along, tail in trunk, forming something of an elephant chain as they marched back to their grazing ground. Our time was concluded with a brief tour of the elephants’ sleeping quarters, along with a biology lesson in elephant anatomy and a comparison with Indian elephants. We certainly left enriched by the experience and that much more respectful of our fellow African citizens.
The Elephant Sanctuary provides a ‘halfway house’ for young African elephants in need of a temporary home. It is the Sanctuary’s vision to release all the elephants into an environment, where they can be more independent once they are older.
A good way to conclude your elephant walk is to pop past the Peppermill Café, which borders the Sanctuary and Birds of Eden. The Café is reputed to have the best chocolate cake and while I did sample this decadent treat, I thought their homemade ginger-beer was worth a return visit. The Peppermill boasts a lovely outdoor area, complete with children’s play area and a few goats! It is also surrounded by a series of art and craft shops, ranging from a mohair wool outlet to a gallery.
Contact the Elephant Sanctuary:
Address: The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route.
Telephone: +27 (0)44 534-8145
Opening hours: Please enquire