• Karen Heckman Stork

My Elephant Adventure

Quote of the Day: I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful one hundred percent. Dr. Seuss

Anyone who knows me knows that, besides my family and my writing, one of the greatest joys in my life is elephants—learning about them, watching movies about them, visiting them in zoos and collecting their likenesses. My biggest wish on my bucket list is to go on an African safari so I can see elephants in their natural habitat.

While I haven’t yet gone on a safari, recently I did the next best thing.

Have you ever indulged yourself in a relaxing spa retreat with three of your friends? Well, that’s what I did during my first up-close encounter with my favorite pachyderms at Wilstem Ranch, an elephant sanctuary and growing safari park near French Lick, IN.

My three new friends were Makia, Lovie and Lulu, female African elephants aged 31 to 42. They vacationed at Wilstem Ranch from mid-March until October 30. The handlers spent the other four months of the year with their elephant “children” in Sarasota, FL. These elephants are now retired, but formerly had performed in the circus, marched in parades and attended state fairs.

Participants in the elephant spa experience assisted in giving the three ladies their daily bath. I was the first of the group chosen to assist in bathing Makia. I got inside her pen, was handed a spray bottle filled with soap, and squirted it all over one side of her body. She stood calmly and tried to catch some of the spray in her mouth. The owners were always close by to teach and assist. Too soon it was time for the next participant to take their turn. Some of us got a second chance to help, and I was the last person to assist in rinsing off Lulu. Maybe they could see how much I wanted to be involved, or perhaps it was my big smile during the entire experience.

After the baths were finished, it was picture time. We got to reach up and touch the elephants and took turns taking pictures of each other. I stroked their trunks and felt their skin which was stiff and scratchy. All the while, the elephants were docile, calm and receptive. It was obvious that they were used to being around people.

Participants were emphatically told that elephants really do not forget. In order for them to interact in this way, they must feel safe and protected. And if an elephant likes a particular individual, they will remember that person in a crowd. I certainly would like to find out if this is true during a future elephant encounter.

These large gray pachyderms are some of the most awesome creatures on God’s earth with many human characteristics. I have always felt an almost psychic connection to these large, lumbering, magnificent animals. I wish I understood the reason for this strong affinity. I continue to support the international ban on ivory trade and other efforts to stop the poaching that threatens their existence

  • Action for the Week: Help Save the Elephants through the World Wildlife Fund.

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