Categories
United States of America

Roar, Snore and S’Mores on Safari

Instantly, we became tigers and others became lions, elephants or hippos. And, in case we forgot, a simulated tiger skin wristband imprinted with our tent number reminded us. Next came a t-shirt. Then the tiger group was on its way to a roaring and snoring good time on a safari in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Hand luggage in tow, we began searching for our tent, one of 46 overlooking the African savannah where giraffe, Northern White Rhino, Cape buffalo, African crowned crane, grant gazelle, oryx, and giant egret roam daily in the Safari Park, 35 miles north of the Zoo.

Finally, we found our tent #37 written on a tree stump stool. Unzipping the tent “door” revealed a normal hotel room encased in a heavy canvas tent. The electric lamps, fan, heater and hot and cold water all worked so we were in business next to the elephants..

The 17 elephants were putting on a welcome show for us: eating hay,  pooping, swimming and submerging trunk and all under water, rocking and rolling and twisting to their silent music, and flipping over in their daily ritual. And they could do this because their exhibit compound had just been cleaned by 4 keepers who had hand raked and collected their poop from the previous day. Each day, 2,000 pounds of poop is gathered and placed in a Bobcat bulldozer and larger truck, then delivered to local farmers for fertilizer.

Too soon, the tiger group had to leave the elephants and continue our orientation tour.  This time our hunt was for the restrooms, as there were none in the tents. A block or so away we found our target, full-service restrooms including showers.

The dinner bell was calling us so off we went for cocktails, then chicken, green salad, squash, and cake overlooking the Park’s African savannah. All 87 of us ate dinner on wooden picnic tables while watching the sun and animals end another day.

On our safari, we were given a glimpse into “as the elephant world turns.” Drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa, allowed the San Diego Zoo to acquire 7 elephants, arriving via 747 aircraft. They were going about their daily lives, eating, pooping, sparring and resting with each other. Since males only associate with females for mating, one solitary bull elephant was by himself and was busy throwing dust all over his body to kill insects, to cleanse and to cool.

Meanwhile Umngani, a female elephant, was standing in the elephant yard nursery waiting her third calf’s birth. Her male and female offspring, Ingadze and Khosi, were visiting every day to see if they had a new playmate.

As we became more involved in the elephant world, we learned that male and female African elephants have tusks, but only the Asian males have them. So, when an Asian bull elephant first saw a female African elephant, he didn’t know she was female. He only knew females did not have tusks. After a few days, he figured it out and started showing her what a strong elephant he was by picking up a log and running with it and dropping it near her over and over.

In the Rhino world, two female Rhinos looked like they were in relationship as they napped side by side in the savannah.  But then we learned only one male and female  Rhino pair was put together in an exhibit, but no baby Rhinos were born. By
1972, the solution was discovered when another female was added to their exhibit. Like elephants, a female Rhino only associates with a male when she is ready to mate. The rest of the time, female Rhinos prefer being with their female Rhino friends. Now, there are many baby Rhinos.

After a break for S’Mores and hot chocolate by the fire pit, we revisited the elephant world to find six elephants of all sizes and ages taking a late-evening bath. They totally submerged themselves in the water, rocked and rolled over with all four feet in the air, and did elephant acrobatics. What a soothing and calming experience this was to watch.

After dark we entered the lion family world, invited there by the lion’s keeper into their kitchen and bedrooms. Their freezer was filled with large round stickless popsicles made from meat blood drippings. “The lions LOVE them, the keeper told us. And every time she works with the male lion, Izu, she collects hair shed from his huge mane and keeps it in a plastic container for all to feel. It was downy soft. What an unexpected and rare glimpse into a world we would never have known.

Finally, it was time to snore at this Roar and Snore safari adventure. We had no trouble meeting the 10:30 PM “lights out” curfew. Having been warned that elephants would trumpet and lions would roar during the night, we asked others if they heard the sounds. We didn’t know since we slept so soundly in our comfortable bed in the tent. So at breakfast, everyone we asked said “Yes” and we never heard one sound as we enjoyed snoring in our tent.

The grand finale was petting and feeding a rare Rothschild giraffe, Chomoa, and a rare Northern White Rhino, Bhopu. Caravan safaris are a regular event at the Park and these two animals know treats are available from the truck. So, each voluntarily nonchalantly sauntered straight to the truck to pose like a movie star with each person for photos in exchange for their favorite green leaf snack. Amazingly, each animal knew when all photos were taken so they just turned around and sauntered off just like they had come. The movie star Choma was finished with this truck and awaited the next safari to arrive. Then it was time to leave an awesome roaring and snoring fun safari adventure in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and return to our normal everyday lives. But it sure was hard to leave those precious, priceless animals and their fun, unique personalities.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

Categories
Botswana

Eating With Elephants in Botswana

Driving into the bush in the middle of the Okavango Delta from Stanley’s Camp, we saw nothing. Lisa, a vet student studying in Botswana, came and took us for a walk in 2 ft. high grass until we came to 3 elephants just standing unleashed in the wild eating acacia tree leaves, grass and anything they could find. The elephants were Jabu, Marula, and Thembi, 1 male and 2 female. Jabu, the male, was at least 15 feet tall. The females were smaller and more “feminine”. All were orphans that were rescued from culling operations from their family herds. We stood as far away from them as we could and still be with our  Abercrombie & Kent group.

Doug Groves, the keeper of the elephants, introduced himself and the elephants as we stood in the grass spell bound and frightened. We were taking photos like mad and noticed our hands were shaking. Getting that close to wild, unleashed elephants just about freaked us out. Hyperventilating now, I was so scared but I didn’t want Jabu to figure it out. Elephants are very smart animals and can retaliate.

Doug started teaching us about elephants that can live for 70 years. While shooting an American film involving elephants in the area in 1988, he became interested in elephants. With his wife, Sandy, they adopted Jabu, a 2-year-old, and formed Grey Matters for visitors to interact with his elephants and livingwithelephants.org to create harmony between elephants and people. They have devoted their lives to the elephants and can only be away for a day or two because they miss him so much.

The 3 elephants have already saved his life in the bush when a lion went after Doug. The 3 elephants placed themselves between Doug and the lion and put their heads down to the ground. The lion backed off. Jabu is now 25 years old and his name comes from jaublani, which is Zulu tribe word for happiness. Jabu loves people and new challenges.

Elephants do things with their sensitive trunk that is so exact it can pick up a pea, show alarm by blowing air through it, rumbling for communication, or for eating. Then, Doug showed us a gland on the side of Jabu’s head that was draining between the eye and the ear. This shows the elephant is in musk and ready to mate. When the ear flap edge becomes torn and notched, it shows an elephant is older.

Their teeth also help with guessing the age. An elephant has 5 sets of new teeth in their lifetime because they grind them down from chewing. “Teeth come in the mouth like a conveyor belt, one after the other.”And this continues until around 50 years old. After that, the elephant dies when the last set of teeth is gone because it cannot eat without teeth. “Elephants eat and poop their entire waking hours.”

One at a time, Doug invited us to greet Jabu and to touch his skin. He told us to only approach Jabu from the left side. I have touched an elephant and knew what it felt like, so I decided to touch Jabu.. He had about 4-5-inch long hairs on his trunk which was hard to see as they were scattered evenly over the trunk. They act as antennas to indicate how close the trunk is to something.  Shorter hairs are all over their body, but the hairs are every few inches apart. They are not like hair or fur, they are like wire.

How Doug talked to Jabu amazed me. He talked so softly to him because elephants don’t like loud noises. Doug told Jabu to “come over here”to be closer to us about 5 times before he acted. But, from then on, he minded Doug on every command and worked like a perfect team. He never hit or hurt them in any way. He told Jabu to open his mouth and he did and Doug showed us his teeth and tongue. Then Doug told him to show us how he trumpets when he is alarmed and Jabu blew his trumpet sound so loud it scared me even further. Next he told him to make a rumbling sound which is how they communicate with each other and us, and he rumbled.

Watching the 2 work together was just like a symphony and it helped me to warm up and be more comfortable around Jabu. Doug offered Jabu for photos holding onto his tusks and finally Tom agreed. The tusk is an extensionof the teeth-bone system. Next, Jabu showed us some of his hat snatching tricks. It was such a cute trick. So, everyone was offered the opportunity to do the trick with Jabu.

By now, I was beginning to believe I could trust Jabu as Doug had showed us how to interact with him. I offered so Jabu took off my safari hat with his trunk, put it on his head and then put it back on my head. His trunk was heavy as it bore down to put my hat back on my head!

Marula was next to show her stuff while Jabu ate in the bush. Marula and a male elephant were owned by a Botswana couple who got them from culling operations during the 1980s Zimbabwe drought. Meant to be pets to the couple, the male killed a man so he was sold to a park in South Africa. The Park owners decided the only solution was to destroy him after he killed 7 white rhino and flipped over a vehicle. Marula was not implicated in the rhinocide but she wasn’t happy and became antisocial. Doug took Marula in 1994, baggage, bad behaviors and all, and trained her and gave her a good life. She showed us some of her features like Jabu did. Doug said Marula is his Princess.

Marula was taken to a small tree to eat. Elephants can eat everything on a tree—the bark, the limbs, the leaves-all of it. We watched them chew up entire large limbs like they were candy, and eat huge sections of grass like it was nothing. They can each drink up to 200 liters of water per day.

Thembi was next and is the youngest of his 3 elephants. Orphaned in Krueger National Park in South Africa, Thembi is short for Thembigela, Zulu for “trust”. She is a sweetheart, and even though she is the smallest, she loves attention, loves to be with the other 2, and gets nervous when she is not. Thembi considers herself the protector of the herd. When he got her, she was lonely and not adjusted. She would tear up trees to take out her frustrations.  Now with Doug, she has self respect, feels she belongs and is very sensitive.

So Thembi had to show us how she sleeps each night and how she gets down and up. First it was the back legs that bent and it looked like she was sitting on her knees.  Then it was the front legs that bent and she was down on the ground. The head and truck followed and she was totally laid out on the ground. Elephants sleep about 5 hours each day and his 3 stay in an enclosure by his house there in Botswana.

With Thembi totally laid out on the ground, he showed us her feet. It was our first time to actually see the bottom of a wild elephant’s foot and their toenails. Doug invited us to touch and inspect her foot. It was not smooth and kind of looked like cracked and dried mud caked on some parts and nothing on other parts. I had purchased a footprint of the elephant I rode (Damiano) in Zimbabwe, so that was the only “footprint” I had seen. Seeing an elephant lying down instead of standing tall and dominating over us all was an eye opener.

After 2 hours, we left and the 3 elephants waved goodbye with their trunks. It was another priceless moment. And as we drove by them on the way to our bush lunch, Lisa was sitting on top of Jabu who had been taught to lift his right leg up so Lisa could get up and down.

To get to the bush lunch, we had to “go swimming” in our safari Land Rover in the Okavango Delta which was 4-6 ft. deep and still rising in June.  Stanley’s Camp provided us with a buffet lunch out in the wild bush underneath a mangosteen tree. While we were having pre-lunch cocktails, they joined us in our bush luncheon.

That’s right. Those 3 huge elephants came marching in right next to our table and ate lunch while we ate lunch!!!  Tears came into my eyes as I observed and participated
in this magnificent event. Never before had I ever had such a wonderful adventure with elephants, much less to have lunch with the elephants. It took a few moments to process what I had just seen and was experiencing. Workers brought in big blocks of hay and a plastic trash can with special pellets for each elephant. Their food was set in 3 separate piles just like our plates of food for each one of us. Doug stood by Jabu’s pellets for about 5 minutes while Marula and Thembi ate theirs because “if Jabu ate the pellets at the same time as the females, he would eat his fast and then go steal Marula’s and Thembi’s! And when all of us finished eating everything, the elephants just stood there perfectly while Doug answered our many questions.

We were sitting at the end of the table closest to the elephants 15 feet away and we ate with them behind us. I trusted the elephants by now and felt comfortable enough to turn my back on them. Then, Lisa told us to move about one more foot apart and we didn’t know why.

But soon we found out. All of a sudden, Jabu put his trunk between us. I just about lost my breath. Talking about a heart beating so fast, my blood pressure must have shot straight up!  I could only think of the things that could go wrong at that moment and I began to write my headline again “Tow killed by bull elephant in Botswana.” The entire photo session with Jabu only lasted about 2 minutes but it seemed like an eternity to me. I was so relieved when he backed away yet I was so honored that Jabu would pose in a photo with us at the table and that we could experience this gentle giant and his 2 female friends. All 3 truly gave us a priceless moment that can’t be duplicated. As we left our bush lunch, the 3 elephants were waving “Goodbye” to us with their trunks!

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

Categories
India

Incredible India

It really is Incredible India as the sign says when you enter customs. 

India is ancient temples;

sacred cattle in the streets;

new temples;

women in saris;

traffic jams everywhere yet every driver inviting others to pull in front of them;

caparisoned (decorated) elephants giving rides on the side of the road;

men wearing turbans, 

bodies wrapped in colorful paper and ribbon being brought on the top of 

vehicles  for their sacred cremation in the Ganges River in Varanasi;

 the magnificent Taj Mahal at 6 a.m. in the morning;

and the curry-spiced Indian food.

It’s the top hotel palaces in the world;

a houseboat ride on canals around Kerala;

 Kathakali dancers and Kalaripayattu ancient martial arts

 demonstration at Kumarakom;

Three huge caparisoned elephants in a Hindu temple ceremony in Kerala,

yoga lessons in spiritual Kerala/Cochin;

and climbing the 225 steps to Elephanta Island near Bombay/Mumbai to see the ancient carving.

 In Bombay/Mumbai, it’s the Dabbawallahs

on their daily deliveries of fresh-cooked food from each customer’s home delivered for lunch

in their Bombay offices in Tiffins without a mistake; 

the largest democracy in the world;

the Dhobi Ghats where residents have their laundry washed in many concrete vats outside

 and pounded and pounded until clean, then dried and delivered to the Bombay/Mumbai home;

where everyone has a job no matter his/her status;

where trains stuffed with people arrive continuously into Bombay/Mumbai;

where new modern buildings are built next door to a slum of tents.

It’s a special Maharajah dinner evening in Jaipur with

caparisoned elephants, camels, horses and people dancing to the beat of the music, and pashminas for warming shoulders.

India is a country that is not to be missed for a life-changing experience and a trip of a lifetime on Tauck World Discovery’s all inclusive tour because it is truly incredible India.

 

Categories
United States of America

Foot Work at the San Diego ZOO

Three orangutans with toe sacks over their heads, a bear that used to dance, a jaguar wanting meat, and an elephant having a pedicure were part of a unique animal experience Christina and I had on our behind-the-scenes tour of the 94-year-old San Diego Zoo. Stepping into the lives of this menagerie of animals for a few minutes reminded me of my many African safaris. And visiting one of the top zoos in the world for preservation of species and humane treatment of animals was a thrill.

The purpose of my trip to the 100-acre San Diego Zoo was to see the seven elephants in their new multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art Elephant Odyssey and Care Center. As I came upon the center, I was surprised to see that the custom-built treatment enclosures were in full public view.

In one, a huge, 10-foot-tall African elephant had a foot sticking out of a hole in the enclosure. The elephant’s veterinarian was filing its toenails. Having seen hundreds of elephants in zoos and on African safaris, I had never seen anything like this. How such a huge animal could submit and place a foot out of a hole in the fence was beyond my comprehension, even though I had cared for many cows, bulls, and calves on our dairy farm when I was growing up.

I learned it takes months of training to show the elephants how to do the procedure because the San Diego Zoo uses cooperative training where the animals are never forced.  One thing that kept the elephant cooperative was the keeper sitting next to the veterinarian. This keeper was feeding the elephant 18-inch-long lettuce leaves. As the elephant got its pedicure, it would stick its trunk out of another hole in the 15-foot-tall steel fence to grab a lettuce leaf.  It did this every 10 seconds throughout the pedicure. I just couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.

When I watched veterinarians and keepers shining a flashlight into the eyes and ears of another elephant, I asked what was wrong. One veterinarian replied, “She has an infection.” As we watched, they gave the elephant a shot in the hip to cure the infection.

Our next stop on the Zoo tour was a visit with Tanya, the keeper of the Orangutans. It was so funny because it was raining and two orangutans were sitting on a tree branch with a toe sack over their heads to keep dry. Next to them on another branch was another one with a toe sack over its head. Keeper Tanya told us that 39-year-old Clyde, the adult male of the bunch, was in his bedroom because he did not like getting wet. Also with him were Satu, Inda and Janey, who brushes her hair every morning, loves to paint and has sold several of her paintings. Janey is the only Sumatran orangutan in the Zoo. The rest are all from Borneo.

The highlight of this stop was when keeper Tanya went into the orangutan habitat and fed them a morning treat of grapes and other fruits. Two of them stood up on their back legs ready to receive the grapes thrown to them just like humans stand to catch a ball. Tanya told us the orangutan gang loves air-popped popcorn, nutritional biscuits, leaves, fruits, vegetables, termites, honey, and barbecue sauce.

Tanya explained that the Zoo has a glass wall to separate the public from the orangutans because “they don’t have immune systems like we do so they easily catch human diseases.” The final fact we learned was why the concrete viewing area floor was covered with shredded rubber tires. I thought it would be to keep my feet and legs from hurting after standing for so long enjoying the antics of the orangutans. But no, that was not the reason. It was because the orangutan’s bedroom was right under the viewing area and the rubber “rug” would keep the bedroom quiet while the orangutans rested!

Our next stop was to see a Sloth Bear. Now, I had never heard of a Sloth Bear until the keeper told us it used to be known as the dancing bear that performed in circuses and animal shows. It would “dance” like a ballerina with skirt and all. Ken was the cutest bear, with long fluffy fur and long, long claws just like a sloth has. But the highlight of visiting Ken was when the keeper fed him a bottle of water and honey with a straw. A Sloth Bear’s lips are flap-like, enabling it to suck food and water. Watching Ken form those long lips tightly around the straw made us laugh out loud for several minutes. Even funnier, while he was noisily sucking the water and honey, Ken was sitting on his behind with his legs straight out front. Oh, he was so cute.

Next stop was a visit with Orson, a velvety and beautiful black Jaguar. The entire time we visited Orson, he enjoyed five pounds of ground beef. His keeper explained that Orson weighed around 150 pounds and that a female jaguar is gold with black spots and half Orson’s size. Jaguars come from Central and South America, and have huge feet and a head full of muscles that can bite through a skull.

The Zoo is a breeding ground for many species, and one is the California condor, which has the longest wing span of any bird. Thanks to the Zoo, there are now 400 California Condors in the world. The experts at the San Diego Zoo work with other zoos and animal research centers around the world, helping them with their animal challenges in nutrition, diseases, medical needs, and habitats.

Experiencing the San Diego Zoo on a behind-the-scenes tour gave us the total animal encounter, with surprises all along the way and an education too. Watching the elephant get a pedicure while eating long-leaf lettuce has to rank as one of my most wonderful unexpected sights to behold. If only I could have told that elephant how beautiful it looks with its new pedicure!

Categories
Africa Kenya Tanzania

Elephants, Cheetahs, Leopard, Monkeys, Rhinos, Hyenas, Hippos, and a Bird

When we were in Kenya-Tanzania in February, our Tauck World Discovery tour director, Deanne Inman,  gave us an airmail note-letter. With this, we were to write ourselves a letter about our safari we had just completed. Then she would mail it to us 3 weeks after we returned home and we were back into our normal daily hustle and bustle.

So, following is the letter I wrote.

1.   I remember going back to the hotel, the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, from the Tauck World Discovery Farewell Cocktail Party in the bush, and the only thing on the road  was 5 elephants.

2.   I remember having to check the back tire of our safari vehicle (I had to go to the WC behind the van because  no restrooms were nearby) in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and therefore, causing our van to have to separate from the other 2 Tauck safari vehicles. This made us a little late, causing only our safari vehicle occupants to see a rare cheetah.

3.   I remember eating Breakfast on a Picnic Table in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania while a Vervet monkey was in our locked safari vehicle with the roof open, having Breakfast from my tote bag. He joyously ate my only package of Fritos and

cookies.

4.   I remember Victoria Vance of Manhattan walking to her seat carrying her plate of food at our bush luncheon in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. All of a sudden, a black-shouldered Kite (bird) swooped down from the tree above and stole her juicy steak from her plate. She hollered “He hit me, He took it,” and she didn’t even drop her plate.

5.   I remember in Samburu, Kenya, a Vervet Monkey stealing the English Bread that Blase had on his plate as he was eating Breakfast. That monkey was watching Blase from afar and then suddenly jumped through the open window behind Blase, jumped on the table, and stole his bread and took off, all in an instant.

6.   I remember a beautiful, gorgeous adult leopard resting in a tree, only to learn she was sitting on food she had caught earlier. And then the leopard got up, carried the food in its mouth and left the tree.

7.   I remember 4 hyenas eating the stinky carcass of and elephant or buffalo, in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and seeing 3 other hyenas who had eaten or were ready to eat, waiting nearby. Also nearby were 2 male lions who probably were involved in the kill, lying nearby, and one had an injured eye.

8.   I remember watching a Herron eat a snake that was yellow on one side. The Herron played with the snake and then ate it, inch by inch. I was watching my first kill in the wild on an African Safari.

9.   I remember Tom, with his huge telephoto lens camera, and several others on the safari, clicking dozens of  photos per second, when a Top 5 animal appeared every time.

Tom also wrote a letter about his safari memories and they are:

1.   I remember the weather being perfect with no rain and everything green, green, and green except Samburu, Kenya which was desert-like.

2.   I remember the elephant in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania coming up to our safari vehicle and smelling us with her trunk.

3.   I remember the 6-7 year old male elephant in Samburu, Kenya, charging, threatening, stomping, and bluffing us in our safari vehicle, trying to get us to leave. And all the while, our safari driver telling us he was just a teenager learning how to be a big bull elephant one day.

4.   I remember in Samburu, Kenya, telling Carolyn to turn around and she said “Why”? And I said “Look”. She turned around, saw the Baboons right by her and screamed and jumped with surprise.

5.   I remember in the Serengeti, seeing 2 hippos in a pond, playing, biting, and fighting each other with their mouths open, showing all those huge teeth.

6.   I remember in Sweetwater, Kenya, being told by the armed Park Rangers to come and pet the White Rhino, Max.  I did right away but Carolyn was scared and, finally, we both had our photo made with him.

7.   I remember spotting the male white rhino on the way to the Tauck World Discovery Farewell Cocktail Party BEFORE our safari driver spotted it.

8.   I remember Carolyn getting a Surprise 25th Tauck Tour cake in Samburu, Kenya, complete with sparkler and the hotel waiters with instruments to accompany her 26th tour send off and many more.

9.   I remember that an African Safari in the wild is the No. 1 most awesome experience in the world and that I promise to be on another African Safari every 2 years with Tauck World Discovery.