Thursday, July 12, 2012

Abu Camp: The World's As Small As An Elephant

"I had seen a herd of elephants traveling through dense native forest... pacing along as of they had an appointment at the end of the word." -- Isak Dinesen

How delightful to learn this week that Heather from Lost in Arles and I share an acquaintance...

We both met Cathy the Elephant, the matriarch of the resident herd at Abu Camp, when we each visited the 500,000 acre game reserve in Botswana's Okavango Delta. So many of you were tickled that two bloggers living half a world away from each other might know the same elephant, so I thought you might enjoy getting to know Cathy, too, and learning a bit about her home.

After our wedding, Mr. H. and I wanted to fall off the planet a bit. So for our honeymoon, we hopped on a plane and, a quick stop in Paris later, found ourselves in the Namibian dessert. We explored the world's tallest sand dunes, soaked up the end-of-the-universe isolation of the Skeleton Coast, and made our way to Botswana where we marveled at the abundance of wildlife, nearly close enough to touch during game drives at Little Mombo Camp in the Okavango.

 But I'll always believe we saved the best for last by ending our journey with the elephant back safari at Abu, where we met Cathy.

Cathy began her life in Uganda, but was soon uprooted from her home to be part of a Safari camp outside of Toronto, Canada. She returned to her native continent in 1990 as one of the founding members of the first elephant back safari in Africa, now Abu Camp, originally started as a refuge for orphaned and endangered elephants.

The world looks different from the back of an elephant. And while it was a humbling wonder to watch, from the back of a Land Rover, elephants at play--and come too close for comfort, like the one who broke into camp at Little Mombo--it's another experience all together to "immerse yourself in the elephant herd" as Abu encourages.

Baby Abu, the entertainer of the herd

Like people, from their very first days, elephants develop their own personalities. As we took turns riding and interacting with the different members of the herd, we experienced firsthand the distinctive habits, gestures and quirks that made them unique individuals. Cathy, for instance, has been dubbed the "limousine of the herd" because she is the most comfortable to ride, while Shirheni is known for her calmness and patience, and Baby Abu is the showman and entertainer of the group.

Elephants communicate with each other through a series of rumbles from deep within - so wile sitting astride one as they vibrate with messages back and forth, you actually feel their conversations--and it is if you might on some level absorb a bit of their wisdom, too.

Nestled in a picturesque spot on the edge of the delta, like any other luxury safari camp, Abu takes care of your every need. But more than elephant rides and champagne sipped under the stars, the premise of place is elephant conservation through partnership with research organizations such as Elephants for Africa. The mission of the camp remains true to the original vision - to return previously captive elephants to the wild. So far, the Abu Elephant Program has successfully released five elephants into the wild, including most recently Pula, who we remember as a mischievous and playful teenager on our visit.

"What happens to beasts will happen to man. All things are connected. If the great beasts are gone, man would surely die of a great loneliness of spirit." --Chief Seattle

It's hard to explain the impact of walking in the footsteps of herd of African elephants. Their stature emphasizes your smallness. Yet their signals and signs that transcend day-to-day conversation help connect you to a greater Universe. The world seems larger yet smaller all at once... which is why, if one has the opportunity, there is nothing like the enormous privilege of spending a few days immersed in the small world of a handful of elephants.

More tomorrow on Abu Camp an the other creatures we met there. 


  1. OK Jeanne I am so jealous and happy for you that you were able to experience the elephants. I
    used to collect elephants because I love them so much. I can't wait to read more!


  2. Hello Jeanne

    I loved the follow up story on Cathy. What a life this poor immigrant has had. She has held several passports and has taken the best wisdom of all the countries she has lived in.

    Your explanation of being on elephant back and feeling their communication has resonated with me. What a feeling and also proof we do not need to speak a language to understand it.

    Thank you for sharing this unique experience.

    Helen xx

  3. beautiful vistas...and equally beautiful story

  4. OK Jeanne this is crazy... I, too, have visited Botswana and that same Delta...I could swear the name of the camp was called Little Mombo but I don't remember that special elephant...could it be that I stayed at Big Mombo camp instead? I seem to remember that there were two affiliated ones. I was there in '99, and the entry made an impression on me...we took a canoe through reeds that the hippos had carved out to get there...sound familiar?

  5. Hi Barbara, So funny that you've also been to Little Mombo - we were indeed there on our honeymoon, but it wasn't the camp where we met Cathy - Abu Camp is also in the Okavango but is different from the Mombo camps in that you have the elephant-back safari experience.(We stayed at both camps). We loved Little Mombo for the amazing amount of wildlife we saw there. Isn't it a small world, though that we've traveled to the same little place in Botswana!

  6. i get it jeanne. i so honor these elephants and what they have to teach us. i recently saw a documentary about how they mourn after a death in the herd. it was incredible. and their stature! how can one not be awed and humbled and spun in a supernatural daze?!?

    thanks for sharing this amazing experience.


  7. Jeanne ~ what a wonderful become incorporated in a herd of these beautiful creatures. Thank you for sharing.

  8. a m a z i n g... and i LOVE mr elephant painting...xx

  9. What a wonderful experience and your photography made me almost feel as though I was there. Loved your story...

  10. Jeanne, I wish you could see the smile on my face! No mean feat as my Sis left this morning and I have a case of the mean reds. It is true, how extraordinary. Am thinking of doing a response post with a linkup--because you wrote so beautifully about Cathy and Abu Camp and our stories are quite different!
    xo and thank you for the mention,



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