Walking with Elephants // Day 2
The morning began early at 3am, as it will for the next three weeks, to ensure the elephants are moved in maximum safety and comfort. Danbar, one of Tiger Tops longest working naturalists, explained how this enables the elephants to escape the heat and the traffic, while giving them time enough to rest, feed and bathe before dark. Once the elephants are settled in, staff then take an hour to set up camp, another two hours to source and prepare the elephant food, while others are cooking up a hearty feast for the team.
Sunny and humid days, like today, are not particularly comfortable for the elephants. Being so large and on the move they become hot, slower and are easily bothered by insects. To abate the heat, the elephants produce saliva from their mouth to trunk and spray it over themselves. Once wet, however, they become itchy and irritated so they then toss dirt on their forehead and backs.
In the dark of the morning, it was decided to walk through the jungle rather than continue on the road, as it was less congested and provided more shade. Although it turned out to be a longer journey, the herd was kept well shaded and was treated to snacks along the entire route. At small townships villagers gathered astounded by what they saw before them. Bananas, apples, bread and maize where offered for food. Money was placed on the ground after which the elephants picked (or rather sucked!) it up with their trunk and passed it to their mahout. The gentleness the elephants radiate when moving among people is enough to command the respect of any passerby, who cannot help but stop and embrace a moment with these amazing animals. Halfway on the journey Gulab Kali, the oldest of the four, departed the herd for Tharu Lodge, her residence for the season.
The day drew on and the crowds flocked as the elephants descended into camp. From one idyllic location to another, the tall thick forest at the edge of the camp opened up to rice paddies, their evergreen fields stretching as far as the eye could see. While Tim went off to find a truckload of grass for feed, the herd took their first dip in a small river that separated the forest from the plains. The sun was edging towards the mountaintops, dispelling soft yellow rays that lapped at the waters edge. The shadows in the water reflected the enormity of nature, beside the dancing silhouettes of kids from the local village. Some sat on the bank squealing with glee as the elephants put on quite the water spraying show. Far in the field, others gathered to play soccer, a match with no visible boundaries or goal posts, just an endless spirit floating in the afternoon sun.
As the sun crept lower behind the bordering mountains, it was time for the epic elephant feed. Each day each elephant requires a staggering 250kg of food! Even with just three hungry elephant mouths to feed, close to 1 ton of food still needs to be sourced everyday. Tim and the naturalists arrived back with a truckload of branches and grass from nearby fields and forests, while elephant ‘sandwiches’ are made on site. Two naturalists sit for at least an hour every day making grass bowls to hold grains. This is then tied with grass. When eating, the elephants are clever enough to untie the grass string, pour the grain content into their mouths, then either eat the grass bowl or discard it. I sat with an audience of village children, watching with them this peculiar but wondrous event of elephant feeding.