Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release
Karen Davila’s up-close encounter with majestic creatures for World Elephant Day
Last summer, before going to safari, I took my kids to The Elephant Camp in Victoria Falls, a sanctuary that now takes care of 19 elephants that have been wounded, orphaned or are very old. What makes this experience valuable is the up-close encounter with these magnificent creatures and the opportunity to understand their needs and behaviour while being on foot alongside them.
The guides first introduced us to their initial herd of four, including the famous “Miz Ellie” and “Jumbo”—the largest of them all and more than 30 years old. They were first captured during culling operations and then sold to a farmer, and have been now rescued to a sanctuary that is able to care for them. I was very impressed with the training and handling of the elephants as they are moving closest to their natural habitats, still roaming free, like being in the wild.
After the elephants are rescued, rehabilitation could take years. Being up close, it’s easy to love them. Majestic as they are, there is such a gentleness in their eyes and a seeming smile on their lips, that is even more pronounced when they’re raising their tusks and being fed. They’re
known to have such empathy with each other that when one dies, they pay their respects and stay with the dead for some time, softly pouncing their tusks on the cadaver.
While the practice of culling or population control is no longer carried out in Zimbabwe, adult elephants face a new threat—being shot and killed for their precious ivory tusks, not just leaving behind juvenile orphans who w will not survive out in the wild on their o own but seriously affecting the world e elephant population.
Today, there are only around 400,000 A African elephants and less than 40,000 A Asian elephants left in the world. African e elephants are killed for their ivory tusks, w while Asian elephants risk losing their h habitat from forest burning and are m mostly captured for labour, circus acts, e elephant ride treks. It’s said that if we d don’t act fast, elephants could be extinct i in the next 10 years.
The documentary Love And Bananas c captures the heart wrenching ordeal that captured elephants go through to be trained—either for labour or entertainment—they are put through what is called a “crush box,” beaten until their spirit has died to the point where the baby elephant no longer recognises its mother.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
We must... TODAY.... STOP buying products with elephant ivory. STOP patronising shows and circuses that use elephants for entertainment. STOP riding on elephants on tourist treks. STOP buying paintings done by trained elephants.
We can, however, contribute and support sanctuaries whose life commitment is to care for these wild animals and be part of crafting a tourism community that is sustainable for generations to come.
While August 12 has been dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants annually, everyday should be World Elephant Day for the survival of these heavenly creatures.
OPPOSITE At the Elephant Camp, Victoria Falls, a haven for rescued elephants THIS PAGE Karen wears PioPio at the Zambezi River Cruise where hippos and crocodiles abound. It divides Zimbabwe and Zambia
GENTLE GIANT CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT With Jumbo, the oldest and largest elephant at the camp. He was orphaned and rescued from culling during the late 90’s; our family photo—my kids love Africa; having lunch and champagne over the Zambezi River, at Look Out Cafe, perched 120 metres above the gorge