By: Natasha Archary
Anyone who knows me, I mean really knows me will understand how much I adore elephants. They are truly magnificent creatures and I am in awe of their stature, sense of calm and their ability to interact with humans.
It was during our Innovative Zipline Date that we noticed a sign to the Elephant Sanctuary and I couldn’t control my enthusiasm at visiting the sanctuary on one of our future dates. Willing to indulge me, my professional plus one was relieved. It would be one of our more tame dates.
I researched the sanctuary before booking this date and was pleased to see that they are kid friendly. I knew instantly that I wanted my son along for this experience, besides whoever said innovative dates had to only happen without the kids in tow?
We all know that dating can be daunting, whatever happened to traditional dating? Now multiply that by about a thousand when you’re trying to get your dating game on as a single parent. The scheduling – finding availability with friends and family to babysit, arranging said available date with your partner, picking a time that suits everyone – jeez the admin! So, I was really happy that this date could come together without all that fuss.
(By then I will have written a piece about when to introduce your partner to your child: Single parent dating series – Memo to myself) Link here
There’s also a monkey (and bushbabies) sanctuary at the venue, perfect for the little ones with walkways and the opportunity to see them in as natural an environment as possible. Yup, there are no cages and they happily hop around from treetop to walkway, curious to see who’s come to visit them. Children are given the introduction to wildlife conservation we need if we are to protect the beauty of nature. Something that is really important for me as a parent, is giving my child the foundation that all living beings deserve respect.
There are two packages to choose from on the Elephant Sanctuary website: Either the elephant interaction or the combo, which includes the monkey sanctuary tour as well. The elephant interaction could take up to two hours so we decide on just that – because anything longer could lead to unwanted toddler tantrums.
We’ve been to Haarties so many times this year, with most of our innovative dates taking place in the area. (I wonder if Haarties residents have a strong love life?) But despite that, I could never tire of the views on the drive there and back. Like something off the back of a postcard, it’s such a relaxing hour-long drive to and from Johannesburg.
We arrive at the sanctuary a few minutes before our tour is to begin and, after a quick check-in, we’re introduced to our expert guide. The elephant interaction tour is a hands-on experience designed to give you a more intimate understanding of how they are handled, cared for, engage and integrate in their surroundings. The sanctuary currently has five rescued elephants in their care. The animals are handled without any restrains, harnesses or canes. A far cry from their previous encounters.
All the elephants were rescued from horrible working conditions in circuses around the world. One of the things that attracted me to the sanctuary was the fact that while elephant rides are offered, they are done so minus the spine-crushing saddles that many clueless handlers insist on. I have always been against the very touristy rides because I could never agree to the inhumane torture elephants have to endure during the training stages and thereafter. So, the sanctuary truly changed that for me.
We meet the first two gorgeous creatures who are in a huge enclosure. The fences are low, giving visitors easy access to feed them. The female is around eighteen years and the male sixteen. We will now be given the opportunity to feed them and because there is a large group, we will all have to take it in turns, two at a time (one person per elephant). The kids go first, accompanied by a parent and we’re told to offer the elephant the compressed pellets by dropping them in their trunks. It’s incredible to see the elephants lower their trunks to the food being offered.
Their trunks are wet and sandy.
“Mommy, their trunks are snotty.”
Honesty that only a three-year-old can give you. Elephants use their trunks to slurp up water and food which is then funnelled into their mouths. Naturally, the trunks are muddy, wet and if this makes you squeamish it may not be a good date idea for you. Personally, I didn’t have any issues with this. It’s now my turn, I grab as much of the pellets that my two hands can gather and offer it to the patiently waiting trunk of the female elephant. It’s vacuumed into the trunk and just as quickly up it goes into her mouth. Amazing.
Once all the food is gone, we’re moving further into the sanctuary to go meet the next two majestic elephants. The two we get a chance to touch and walk with. They’re older than the first two and have had more experience engaging with humans. We’re allowed to touch them at strategic parts of their bodies, with their handlers by our side. Unaware that their hide is covered with prickly hair, I was not prepared for how hard the hair would be. We learned that their eyesight is not strong, they rely on their hearing and keen sense of smell to maneuver in their surroundings.
The interaction allows for memorable picture opportunities and a “kiss”. Obviously, I didn’t turn one down and with my now fearful son in my arms, I prepared for the wet snort of the trunk on my cheek. It came with a force strong enough to knock me off balance a little but it was so worth it. Something I will treasure all my life.
After the entire group was done with the interaction, we made our way into an open area where we would be walking with the elephants. Accompanied by the guides, we walk over to the field and grab hold of their trunk by enclosing a full fist around the opening. Instinctively, the elephants know this means they should start walking forward with us. We do so at a slow pace, all the while my heart happy that I was lucky enough to experience this. (Yes I carried my son during much of the interaction because after the “snotty trunk” discovery, he decided he was scared. Every parent knows that when they communicate how they feel you don’t force them into anything, you just reassure and show them that there’s nothing to be afraid of.)
By now, my tired toddler is ready to call it a day. He’s had enough excitement to last him a lifetime. We head back to the entrance of the sanctuary, for a quick lunch at the kiddies area. How my son still has the energy is beyond me, but he is having the time of his life on the swings and bounding about on the grass. It was a fun day out, a family friendly date idea. One I hope you consider when next you decide a roadtrip is in order.
I would like to commend the sanctuary for their conservation efforts, for taking such incredible care for all the animals in their care and for giving us a truly memorable day. I am in awe of the work you put in and the lengths you go to, to educate the public.
We will be returning to visit the monkey sanctuary next. I can’t wait.