Have you ever had a holiday of a lifetime and then looked back a few months later and wondered if that really happened to you?
As I put the best snapshots and mementos together to make an overdue scrapbook of our trip to Wilderness Collection’s Abu Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta – now 8 months pregnant – I truly don’t recognise myself in pictures. Is that really me jumping in a swimming pool in the African bush or riding an elephant at the crack of dawn?
I almost have to pinch myself that I was there less than a year ago! Whether you are a seasoned safari buff or have never been anywhere very remote, the ultimate elephant interaction experience is at Abu Camp, a private concession in one of Africa’s prime wildlife-viewing areas. The exquisite six-tented safari camp is also home to the Abu Herd – six resident elephants rescued from the wild, brought in from captivity or born at Abu Camp.
Shortly after arriving at the camp we were introduced to ‘the herd’ during an afternoon mud bath session. Once you have received the nod of approval from Cathy, the herd’s massive 55-year-old matriarch, then you have permission to meet the rest of the Abu herd – Shireni, Lorato, Paseka, Warona and baby Naledi. I never anticipated what it would feel like to stand next to one of the most powerful mammals on this planet. Despite being a bit nervous at first, I would soon feel so at ease stroking each elephant’s tough rubbery skin and playing with their ever-curious trunk as I had the privilege of getting to know them individually.
Abu camp is strongly affiliated with conservation partner Elephants Without Borders, so education, conservation and elephant research are firmly at the forefront of the camp. Abu Camp recently announced the exciting news that elephant herd member Lorato is expecting her first calf sometime around October or November 2016 after mating with a wild bull, which will be the first calf born into the Abu herd since 2013; a big mark of success for the camp’s research and elephant preservation programme. I can only sympathise knowing that Lorato has a full 22 months of pregnancy ahead of her!
What makes this particular camp so special is the incredible daily interactions with the Abu herd with the chance to observe their group dynamic as well as each individual elephant’s behavior. You quickly realise how personable elephants are and that they have really distinct characters.
One late afternoon we had a tea party in the bush, which the herd decided to join. Baby Naledi thought this was a hilarious opportunity to see whether she too could have an afternoon cuppa and just like a rebellious toddler, she promptly pushed over a table holding an immaculate afternoon tea set-up with a mere touch of her trunk. It’s moments like this when you realise how physically strong these gentle giants are from such a young age and how privileged we are to be amongst their presence in such a relaxed setting.
For those who are a bit more adventurous and can be lured away from their luxurious tent for the night, you have the option of sleeping adjacent to the herd overlooking the elephant boma in an elevated star bed platform (weather dependent!). Here you will literally fall asleep under the African sky as you are serenaded by the snores of the herd. Mosquito repellent and a strong nightcap are highly recommended!
Abu Camp also offers stunning day and night-time game drives, birding, boating, and Mokoro excursions not to mention a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool to cool off in and a pampering spa to soothe safari induced aches and pains.
No matter what activities you fill your days with, the herd inevitably seems to steal your heart. Upon reluctantly departing this spectacular camp we truly felt a very special and emotional connection to the herd. A mere three nights at Abu Camp had utterly transformed our perceptions of elephants and the wilderness – looking through my photographs really brings back what a magical visit we had.