My spirit animal is an elephant…

Just 2.5 hours outside of Joburg you can find Sun City, a sprawling resort in the North Western province and home to Letsatsing Game Park. Letsatsing is the home to 5 awesome adult elephants and one little baba…and you can only bloody ride them!!!

I had been looking for a way to spend an awesome morning for Rob’s birthday and to also tick one of the things off my bucket list.  After a short google I came across Pilanesberg Elephant Back Safari and signed up instantly

We opted for the sunrise safari at 6am.  The next option is at 9am, but by that time it is getting too hot and we wanted to enjoy it without worrying about getting sun-burnt.  We drove up the night before and stayed at Manyane, 10 minutes drive from Sun City.  The next morning we were up at 4.45am to get started

A little like a magpie, with a much more impressive tail

We met at the Sun City welcome desk, and were pleased to see that there were only 2 other people booked on to the trip.  We climbed into the safari jeep and off we went for the short ride to the game reserve.  Our driver Joseph was really friendly and set the tone for the rest of our morning, as everything was just wonderful

Feeling the wind in my hair whilst driving was so awesome after such a long time of having to drive with the windows closed (for safety reasons in Jozi).  I instantly started to feel a smidge relaxed, which was strange.  I’m a very tightly wound person and honestly can say that I am never truly relaxed.  I’m always on edge and no matter how hard I try or whatever I do I never feel at peace.  That is, until the morning we spent with the elephants

When we turned the corner and the elephants first came into view I was in awe – they are so huge and it really looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park with these giants grazing in the park.  We were met by Clement and he took us into the “Elephant Wallow” where we were welcomed with tea and coffee.  He explained that the elephants we were about to meet were orphans from the Zimbabwean culls of the 70’s and 80’s.  They kept elephants below the age of 5 alive with the intention of selling them to zoo’s and safari parks to raise funds for their national parks.  I was horrified at the tales of the culls, but then they explained to me that although it was tragic, elephants are really destructive and were destroying the parks and farms.  I can kind of see why it was necessary but I still absolutely hate the idea.  In 2002 the 5 adult elephants, 1 female and 4 males, were relocated to Pilanesberg with their handlers, and elephant back safari’s in Pilanesberg was born


Boy, I’m glad it was!  Before we were allowed to ride them we had to meet them and connect with them.  We petted them and chatted to them (the conversation was unsurprisingly 1 sided) and then we were told it was time for the ride.  They can accommodate 10 people on the ride, but there were only 4 of us, so we got to have an elephant each rather than having to share.  The whole herd still walks together regardless, including the baby.  When it was my time to get on the elephant I was beyond excited.  I felt like a kid again

My elephant was Sapi, a young 27 year old (life expectancy is 60 years) and my handler was Elvis.  What a dude!  I had the absolutely perfect team – Elvis was warm, friendly and chatty, and Sapi was a mischievous little pig that was only interested in food!

Rob rode Sharu, who was the eldest of the herd at 28 and is apparently a cantankerous old thing.  Rob really loved him as much as I loved Sapi.  We both had the perfect elephant for us

We set off on the ride and I was struck by just how peaceful it was.  The swaying of the elephant ruined any photo opportunities, but I think that I benefitted from this immensely as I let my camera hang by my side and just got to enjoy the magical experience.  The swaying was also a rhythmic, relaxing movement that just lulled me.  All my problems, stresses and woes just seemed to melt away

Elvis and I chatted and laughed a lot, especially when Sapi kept walking off the trail into the bushes to tear down some more food.  He was really naughty, and was the only adult elephant that I saw eating like that.  He managed to ensure that he had branches in his mouth the whole ride.  I kept hearing this gurgling, bubbly noise and after hearing it about 5 times I finally realised that Sapi is a very windy guy and was farting the whole way round.  Rob noticed too, being the one riding directly behind us!

When it got to the end of the ride all I wanted was to book onto the 9am ride, but unfortunately we are not rich and don’t have that option.  Sigh.  Need to win the lottery…

We dismounted, and I must say, I had real saddle sore!  Maybe I need a bit more junk in my trunk to protect myself from the swaying and bumping around!

We gathered at the wallow to feed the elephants pellets to say thank you for the ride.  I was laughing so much as all the elephants lined up patiently, but Sapi had his trunk up with his mouth wide open just waiting for me to put the food in.  He’s so cheeky!  When I was told that I could put the pellets in his trunk or his mouth I obviously opted for his trunk, but then he clearly wasn’t getting enough at once and stood there with his mouth gaping open.  Elvis told me that I had to put the food right in there.  It was not a pleasant prospect as Sapi has the biggest, wettest tongue ever but I went for it and at one point was elbow deep in an elephant’s mouth!

Sapi tells me he is hungry

I take the plunge

I get slobbery tongue on my once clean arm

Rob couldn’t feed Sharu into his mouth, only into his trunk as he is a cranky old thing (Sharu, not Rob.  Well, sometimes Rob).  Rob fed Sapi though so he could experience elephant tongue sliming up his arm for himself

When the feed was up, we said our final thank you and good byes to the elephants and their handlers and went into the wallow to drink champagne, watch the DVD of our trip and see the photos that were taken of our morning.  I can’t believe how quickly they managed to get the dvd together!  I also can’t believe just how tipsy you can feel at 8am after 2 glasses of fizz!

Sharu lost both tusks fighting over a girl...maybe it is why he is a bit grumpy

I had a truly spiritual experience that morning as I don’t remember ever feeling truly relaxed like that before.  I would say that rather than going for therapy I might just book myself in for an elephant ride every weekend!  It’s not that much more expensive, and definitely more effective

We saw some zebra and a warthog whilst we were up on the elephants, but no other animals.  As with every safari it is pure luck as to what you will see.  Letsatsing Game Reserve is only a 5 minute drive from the nearest gate to Pilanesberg National Park, home to the Big 5.  We went there for the day after our elephant ride and saw so many animals, so I wasn’t upset that we didn’t get to see any in Letsatsing.  I just got to enjoy being with these amazing creatures and Elvis – and that was enough for me

If you are in the area and get the opportunity to go and experience this for yourself then I urge you to do it.  I think it is very reasonably priced – we paid R1250 (£105) each.  Book via the website

The elephants are very well looked after and when they are not entertaining the people that ride, they spend the day grazing the reserve and sometimes pop their head over the fence to say hi to the wild elephants in Pilanesberg park

“The spirit of these great creatures will never leave you…..” is the saying on the website.  It is indeed true.  I will carry this experience as a treasured memory for the rest of my life.  Although I’m booking into visit again as soon as I get the chance!


16 thoughts on “My spirit animal is an elephant…

  1. Great pictures! I applaud u for your courage to feed the elephant like that. I just threw the food into their mouths when I did a elephant safari. Haha..

  2. Wow! Beautiful photos and what an amazing birthday present! 🙂 I’m also looking forward to my trip to Bangkok this May since I’m also going to ride an elephant and play with them during our stay… I’m really excited 🙂 Your post made me much more excited than ever before!! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow! What a stunning way to start the day!
    I totally agree with you that spending time with these giants is a WAY much better form of therapy – even with all the gassy gurgle goings on 😉

  4. I did this last year while researching the Rough Guide texts – nice experience.
    I liked the stories about how these captive/tame elephants interact with the wild ones across the fence in Pilanesberg Park proper; they do have regular contact.

  5. Ah, but did you get kissed? I once got a birthday kiss from an elephant at the elephant sanctuary. Very slobbery too!

    BTW I absolutely LOVE the picture of your shadow. Awesome composition.

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