Tuesday May 8- Meeting the Elephants

This morning, we skipped the lion walk in favor of going into the bush to learn about different tracks and signs from different animals.  Antelope Park has a lot of animals, and a lot of them like to hang out in the same general area- the local watering hole (doesn't sound much different from home, right?).  So when our guide pointed to different prints or different droppings and asked us to identify them, they all began to look the same and our group became confused quickly.  To further add insult to injury it was brutally cold this particular morning.  Winter in Africa occurs when we have our summer in Canada, so on this day, it just happened to be bitter cold and reaffirm to the tourists from Canada that winter in Africa is no joke.

*I was fully informed it would be winter in Africa when I would be visiting and I was advised to pack appropriate clothes.  I thought to myself, "Self, you're from Canada.  They have no idea what winter is actually like.  Just pack whatever you want and bring mittens to humor them."  This was a bad idea.  It was COLD. Like frost on the ground, wore mittens every morning, should have brought Uggs, wear every jacket I packed, COLD.  So if/when you decide to visit Africa and you do so during their winter, bring warm clothes (minus your parka).

We went back to camp so that we could take a ride on 1 of the 4 elephants at Antelope Park.  The elephants (3 females and 1 male) range in age from 20 to 25 years old and they all have one or two trainers who work with them regularly.  For our ride, Alex and I were with Colin, a local from Zimbabwe, and his elephant of choice was Cheebi.  Once we were nestled onto the back of the elephant, we took off through the bush where we were able to see nearly the entire park.  Colin was extremely friendly and Alex and I quickly convinced him to teach us Shona, the local language of Zimbabwe.  Learning Shona is easier said than done (I have a difficult time articulating what I want to say in English, not to mention learning another language just for fun).  We decided by the end of the ride, our language lesson would be a work in progress because we still could not remember how to say "hello" or "lion" and so we would make visiting Colin and the elephants a regular occurrence so that we could continuously work on our Shona.

Later that afternoon, after some time spent warming up and putting on as many warm layers as I could find, Alex and I joined a group of volunteers who had arrived the earlier that week to take a 'training walk'.  Armed with our walking sticks (which are really to create a distraction for a naughty lion, and not at all for walking or defending yourself as one may assume), we took off into the bush in the middle of the afternoon with Paza, Penya and Dan.  During this walk, we learned how to properly greet a lion and how to behave when we were working with the cubs and we were able to watch Dan interact with the lions.  Now this may seem silly to some people- watching someone else with a lion, where is the fun in that?  Well, when you frequent the park or are a staff member with the park, you work with lions often.  You then begin to develop a relationship with them, sometimes choosing your favorites, but the lions also become familiar with you and learn to remember and recognize you.  Dan, who has been with Antelope Park for some time, has a relationship with Paza that is interesting to watch.  Paza ADORED Dan and would greet him and always be close by at all times.  Penya on the other hand is a bit of a snob and sometimes does not like to socialize, but she gets jealous and would come around and try to steal all the attention away from Paza. 

Lions, they really are like children sometimes.  They are cute though, you just want to snuggle them (don't do that- Lion Handling 101).

Later than evening, since we had walked with the P's in the afternoon, they were given the evening off and the guests accompanied the L's out on their lion walk.  To avoid a large group of people with the lions, Alex and I accompanied the elephants as they made their way back to their bomas (boma means anything that houses an animal).  We were left in their dust though because once the elephants realize that they are done for the night and are returning to their boma, where food and treats await them, they move FAST.  So I took the time wandering solo through the bush to take some pictures of the magnificent sunset that became my backdrop for every evening to come.

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