Bonding with elephants
“Can I touch her?”
The handler came alongside as I held my hand out to pat the baby elephant. I marveled at the texture of the trunk and snout. I petted it and then the handler tells me not to make any sudden movement. I turned my head and there was this huge elephant ambling up.
No need to tell me not to make sudden movements. I froze. Was this the mother? What would happen if she was angry because I was touching her baby? Where was Bert? Still feeding a baby? What could he do really except die with me? My fellow tourists were calm, still wanting to touch the babies. My open palms were suspended in air. I could not move. The handler was softly speaking to the big mama and the baby gave me a little push with her snout. I prayed.
I turned fully and looked at mama elephant and my fear, the pent-up terror was released in a breath. She looked at me. Elephants are magical. No one could be afraid looking at those eyes so full of kindness. Eyes that spoke of knowledge beyond human ken. Instead of thinking about instant death I wondered instead if she knew I was a mama too. She made a snuffling sound and elongated her trunk. I opened my palm and she breathed gently on it. I smiled. Her baby snuffled too at my palm. I only had eyes for mama. Emotion welled. Then she curled her trunk around her baby. She had finished sharing. I slowly backed away still looking into those wise eyes. Eyes that knew the futility of asking ‘why’?
The ship was docked in Colombo, Sri Lanka and the tour was Kandy by Motor Coach. It was a full day tour departing very early and returning late. The tour talk on board ship made it sound very interesting and a ‘must do’ especially when we were told we may be able to feed baby elephants at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. At Kandy the great attraction would be a visit to the Temple of the Tooth!
After a two hour drive we arrived at our first stop at Pinnawala. Feeding time is around 9 a.m. and although I did not feed milk to a baby elephant it was so amusing to see them inhale a bottle of milk in a second. We listened to the lecture, learned about the orphanage and the work being done and went to view the real feeding. Leaves, fruit were already at the feeding station and we watched as the elephants came up from the river and went directly to eat. We had just learned that most of their day is spent eating, bathing, playing and frolicking in the river.
The handlers had sticks but they seemed to be using them as guiding wands, not hurting the elephants in any way. We were told we could approach them. The path was muddy but that did not matter. We were all bonding with these magnificent creatures. Then came my moment. Yes, I could touch them but I was the one touched.
The Meander: This happened on my birthday in March 2004. I will never forget it. What I will also not forget is December 26, 2004 as I watched the Indian Ocean Tsunami that damaged countries from East Africa to Thailand engulf parts of Sri Lanka. I immediately thought of ‘my’ elephants. The news reports were unending and then I heard and saw the elephants at Pinnawala who had started to move upwards away from the low lying lands hours before the tsunami hit. They were all safe. Elephants are magical.