conservation guardians
A Journey with Elephants by Greg Vogt – Conservation Guardians
Thandora – part 5

Who put who to bed?

It was a warm night and the sun set to a kaleidoscope of colours with Thandora setting a lone figure with a backdrop of beautiful mountains. I was checking mails on my phone and drifting off in thought when I felt a thud, and the car jolted and shook. I startled and turned to see that Thandora was leaning against the vehicle, a 4×4. She was using the vehicle as her sleeping pillar. Then she started snoring and I then realised she was just a scared little soul that wanted to be close to another being.

The vehicle was obviously not taking all her movements very well. The metal crunched and creaked and a mirror cracked, making a snapping noise that rudely startled Thandora, only for her to settle into a deep sleep once again. I could not help smiling to myself, “I was going to sleep with an elephant.”

I slept beautifully that night with the window open and Thandora’s bulging gut bending into the window space. Jolted awake every now and then as she moved, but it was one time I did not mind being woken. She even had the decency to walk away from the car to relieve herself.

Her musty smell was distinct, and I found myself in a space that to this day I long for.

Reality sets in

I shuddered when the new day set in together with the realisation that poor Thandora was going to go through hell again. The group gathered, and it was at the morning briefing that I mentioned to the team that her ‘comfort car’ would stay with her from here-on forward.

The darting process went smoothly and soon she was waking up in her recently repaired holding Boma. This time around the only people present were the team from the reserve and my team. It was more intimate and appropriate and much more respectful.

Preparing her for a new life:

Holding Boma life included Thandora learning to eat proper browse. She was most unimpressed with this and threw little tantrums when her gluttony kicked in and she wanted ‘real food’. Working with her and encouraging her to transform to how life in the bush would be was more of an eye opener for me than it was probably for her.

She had no idea how her life was about to change and I could not stop thinking about the lesson I was being afforded by her.

elephant into the wild
Thandora eating from the bush

Eating wild elephant food was really hard work for Thandora, and no fun at all. She was not adapting to natural browse and graze and one could sense her anger and irritation increase as her zoo food regime was reduced.

Exercise was also important for her. Wild elephants cover a lot of ground every day and she would need to keep up with the other females if they connected successfully. A change in diet and increased physical exertion were two opposing concepts that she had to overcome when released.

Our daily routine would include me getting a box of fruit and walking along the fence-line with her following me from the inside. She was hilarious. After two laps of the boma, she would only walk across half the length and then cut across the Boma to meet me on the other side and wait for me to walk around the perimeter of the fence. I laughed out loud at this crazy woman’s antics and I began to confuse her and leave a tiny morsel of vegetable at each corner of the fence line.  She was most unimpressed when she would only discover one small portion of vegetable after such a long walk. I thought to myself that she would be ready to leave the Boma when the cost to benefit of that tiny piece of fruit was not worth the walk.  This never happened, she always walked for the fruit, no matter how small the reward, and her temper was directly proportional to her junk food deprivation.

animal care
Thandora following me while carrying boxes with fruits

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