Today was a hectic but wonderful day. It started out as a normal day with field work and some data entry. At noon, we had a school volunteer group from Wales come join us for the day! It was a group of 25 kids, aged 15-18, on a two-week volunteer trip in South Africa.
I first met them while I was out in the field collecting data. It was easy to see how excited they were about meeting our ellie family! They got to go on the tour as guests, feeding the elephants, getting to touch them, and learning from out fantastic guides. When finished, we had them make enrichments for the elephants! Enrichments are challenges and games created to keep the elephants thinking. While in captivity, they see the same things everyday. It’s important to provide them with the tools to exercise their brain. Some common enrichments we do are hanging buckets full of treats from their enclosure for them to reach and filling kegs with small holes that are chained to the ground with pellets.
The group made “melon men” for the elephants! We provided them with pumpkins, apples, oranges, bana grass, and molasses. They broke up into small groups and had a competition for who could make the best melon man! Their eyes lit up watching the elephants play and devour the melon. We also made pellet balls wrapped in bana leaves and hid them around the night camp — an elephant Easter egg hunt surprise.
Once finished, our resident elephant expert Dr. Debby, who is in charge of AERU, explained how it is possible for them to make a difference for the elephants without experience. Many of us volunteers came from sales jobs and business school to help in any way we can. By these kids going home and sharing with friends and family how amazing these creatures are, we are able to raise awareness and step in the right direction. The goal is that one day, there will again be wild elephants roaming South Africa!