The elephant you expect vs. the elephant you meet


My four weeks are almost up at the Knysna Elephant Park! If I had to say one thing about the elephants I grew to know and love here, it’s that they all have their own unique personalities. Each elephant in the herd I worked with on a daily basis showed different personality traits based on how they act with each other and with the tourists that come to see them.

First, there are two types of people who come to meet our ellies – those who are excited, and those who are scared.

When guests come excited to see the elephants, they are eager to run up and touch, hug, and take photos with them. These guests expect the elephants to be cuddly and affectionate. When guests are scared, they see these giant animals as a threat and dangerous.

Second, there are two types of elephants. Those who enjoy or don’t mind the attention, and those who will do whatever they want, no matter if the tourists are there. Thato, an eight-year-old female, will let just about anyone come to her and pet her. She is as “cuddly” as an elephant can get. Thato, along with other elephants, has the ability to help people overcome their fears. Many people are drawn to her due to her small size and gentle nature. It’s been amazing to watch people first come and be hesitant to feed them, but after interacting with an elephant like Thato, they aren’t afraid to get up close and learn how amazing these animals are. On the other hand, we have elephants like Thandi. Known as the herd princess, Thandi does whatever she IMG_0895pleases. She’s perfectly safe to be around, but she’s labeled the “unpredictable” elephant. Guides pay extra close attention to her around guests because she will just turn around and run (even with people there), or start play fighting with other elephants. If someone who is frightened sees her act this way, it doesn’t help ease their fears. With a little time, people learn that she is just a silly kid having some fun.

If a guest is scared of the elephants, we are allowing the public to have a negative view of the animals we are trying to save. Even some volunteers were a little scared coming in, but with time and getting to know the elephants everyone quickly learned there’s nothing to be afraid of. Above shows the personalities of just two elephants, and how widely they can range. It’s great that guests can meet such a wide range of personalities within one herd and can learn about how they behave. By learning the uniqueness of each individual, I think people can better relate to them on a personal level, instead of just seeing them as another elephant or animal.

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