Oksana and I spent a week in Livingstone, Zambia, next to Victoria Falls. We made time to visit both sides of the park – Zambia and Zimbabwe. Part of the reason we spent so long in the area was that I was trying hard to justify one of the many excursions one can do in the area. Although Zambia is cheap, the tourism around Victoria Falls isn’t.
Even though we were way over-budget, I so wanted to take a helicopter over the falls or bungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge! I couldn’t see myself leaving this part of Africa without doing something unique. Well, we got our wish! On our day-trip to Zimbabwe, we hooked up with a tour agency called Adventure Zone for an Elephant-Back Safari!
Compared to the previous safari video I edited, this one came together so much easier. (Probably because it recaps a 3-hour tour, rather than a 4-day/3-night one!) We recorded our voiceovers in the courtyard of our hotel, which was a bit frustrating – if you hear someone sweeping the patio by the pool, try to imagine it’s an elephant swishing his tail as he walks through the bush…
I also want to give a shout out to Bra Tich, our Adventure Zone videographer. Oksana and I both noticed right away how well-composed and steady his handheld shots were. We requested his original HD camera files (instead of the edited DVD) for use in our video and got to see the editing room when they copied all 11GBs to our spare flash media. I’m quite impressed with the operation they run from that small room; 4-6 edited videos a day, duplicated and delivered to any tourist who pays for a copy. They’ve streamlined the editing process down to a state that I can only dream of…
The following is a transcript of the above video for Google’s benefit (ignore it, watch the video instead!)
Postcard Valet Travel Podcast
Episode 16 – Elephant-Back Safari
So, after we had gone to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side, Oksana and I wanted to see it from the Zimbabwe side.
We went to Zimbabwe for just one day.
And we decided to walk into Vic Falls, the town, and connect with a company that we had e-mailed online called Adventure Zone.
These guys offer all different types of activities on the Zimbabwe side.
Because the falls this time of year are so full of spray you really can’t get a good view of them. So, I really wanted to get an aerial view by taking maybe a helicopter flight or an ultra light flight, but it was just outside of our budget and I didn’t want to leave the area with regrets on not doing something that you can only do here, like bungee jumping of the Victoria Falls bridge or going on white water rafting down the Zambezi river. But again, we couldn’t afford those things, so what we could afford was an Elephant-back safari.
I’ve heard in the past that elephants in Thailand, for example, are not treated very well and tourists are really discouraged from doing these types of tours. So, I was beyond hesitant to do that, because my primary concern was: Are the elephants treated well? Are they given enough rest? Are they being abused in order to obey the commands?
(Can I have your travel voucher please?)
After about a twenty minute ride in a minivan, we arrived at the little camp and there were three guides waiting for us atop the elephants.
(Standing to the right, this is Lundy. She is twenty seven…)
Our guide gave us a full info on how the elephants are treated, where they are located, and how the handlers train them. Once that was done we got onto our elephants.
Right away, you could see that the elephants were treated really well. There were a couple bottles on the ground and one of the elephants immediately went to pick them up and (ohh) hand them to the trainer. And you could tell that they were using a reward-base system, because as soon as he handed off the bottles, he was asking for a reward.
Our elephant would rather have us mount after doing a kneel-down, so we walked over to a different corral where the elephant kneeled down for us and then we climbed aboard and we started our safari through the bush there.
Our guide, Handsome, walked beside us, and of course he had the gun in case we came across something, because this is Zimbabwe and they have seen lions and leopard at times.
(My name is Denny and your elephant is Lundy.
Well, very nice to meet both of you!
So guys, so you know when we are out in the bush you are welcome to talk.
Asking questions, just feel free and enjoy. You are now in my hands; I will take care of you. )
You don’t get to ride the elephant on your own; you are actually with the guide. He is the one who navigates the elephants and gives the elephant commands.
The safari itself wasn’t spectacular, we only saw few animals out at a distance, but the fact that we were riding on elephants made it completely worthwhile. The three elephants responded incredibly well to verbal commands from the guides and as we took our tour through the bush, they gave us all sorts of information about the elephants, their behaviors, how they train them.
And it was really fitting to hear the guides say that the elephant is the 4×4 vehicle of the African bush.
(No rumbling engine, only with balloon tires. It can go anywhere.
When they started this program, they used to feed them with bananas and apples, and whatnot, but the elephants were not too crazy about those and it was a little bit expensive, so they ended up switching to these custom-made food pellets.
Well, apparently for an elephant, little pellets of oats and seeds and molasses and honey are like chocolate. We were giving elephants these little pebbles that were equivalent to a chocolate bar.
About half way through, we stopped for photos. We handed our cameras down to our guide and he pointed them back up and took photos at us. And of course, that’s the point where we fed them, gave them a little bit of a reward so that they would pose for us.
Our guide, Handsome, explained to us that when they started this program, decades ago, they brought over Indian trainers, because they had the most experience training elephants. And they were completely unsuccessful. The Indian elephants are trained using a punishment system and the African elephants are too big and powerful and too independent to really care about that kind of stuff, so after a few beatings, they would just leave!
It was very educational to find out that the handlers don’t have to give elephants physical commands. They’re – for the majority – the commands are all verbal.
(Alright, what about you guys, saluting the guests! Let’s salute the guests!
I think these elephants knew roughly about 40 commands.
Our guide also told us that, if at any time these elephants want to leave, they’re completely free to do so. They are kept in a corral at night, with a few sticks and brambles making a fence, but the elephants can easily break out and go wandering across Zimbabwe if they want. And some do!
When we returned to the camp, we were able to interact with the elephants on a slightly more personal level.
We got to touch them and feed them. We also got to take pictures right next to the elephants.
I have to say, it was an amazing experience. Their trunks are incredibly agile, but the trunk itself is very rough and the hairs that come up are super wiry. Contrast that, with a few minutes later, where we were able to reach in and feel the elephant’s tongue, which was smooth and slippery – it’s just an amazing contradiction there.
It is such an interesting experience, because the elephant has – or African elephant has – almost like two fingers on its truck and it’s not only sucking in the pellets, it’s also trying to grab on.
(Hold on, Oksana. Ready? Go!)
You know, I’ve always heard that the African elephants are too big and too dangerous to train, but this is obviously not the case.
Well, needless to say, all my concerns were proven wrong. I was very hesitant to go on this safari, but now having done it, I have no regrets and I would really recommend this experience to anyone out there who is looking to do something different in Africa.
Postcard Valet: Episode 16
Postcard Valet is a travel podcast by Arlo & Oksana Midgett.
26 June 2011
Special Thanks to
Vic Falls Adventure Zone
Photos and video
© 2011 Arlo Midgett
with additional video by
© 2011 Adventure Zone
In the past, I’ve heard that, for example, anifel— ‘Anifels.’ Nice.
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Full disclosure: Vic Falls Adventure Zone offered us the Elephant-Back Safari tour for $50 each.