A Journey with Elephants by Greg Vogt – Conservation Guardians
Thandora – part 6

Reserve Life

The holding Boma is situated a few kilometres from the main lodges and within the 11 000 hectare reserve where Thandora was to be released. At this stage I was with Thandora 24/7, and with life returning to normal on the reserve, my support group had whittled down to two reserve staff who relieved me when I needed a break.  My team had whittled away slowly, with the behavioural specialists having left, leaving me alone with her. It was important to have consistency in the staff working with her as we built up to the release date.

Living on the reserve and sleeping in the vehicle became a comfortable space for me very quickly. Favourite moments where when my young daughter came over for the weekends to stay with me. She has an elephant soul and loved life in the reserve. She had the most amazing ability to entertain herself in and around the vehicle. One must remember that lion passed the Boma regularly and a variety of other game would pass by relaxed with our presence, especially now that the green 4×4 was a regular on the reserve.

conservation guardians
My daughter getting driving practice on the reserve

My daughters discipline and ability to be a part of the experience included her having to understand  the rules and sticking to them. I never had to tell her how to behave and I was as amused during my observations of Thandora as I was with observing my daughter. Behavioural studies include what we refer to as conducting activity budgets, or behavioural budgets. In Thandora’s case, this would include counting her behaviours at certain time intervals and recording these behaviours. There are close to 100 behaviours that have certain codes you record at the required time-interval of the hour. My daughter mastered the ability to record accurately and I was impressed with her concentration levels and her ability to recognise these behaviours, for her 12 year old.

The radio system gave me access to the major channels on the reserve, so whilst sitting between behavioural recordings, we would hear the conversations of the reserve staff throughout the day. These conversations gave me insight as to whether the dangerous game were close to the observation vehicle or not. The guides had to know where the lion and cheetah where to be able to show guests the creatures they had come to see during their safari trips. So they would talk amongst themselves via the radio network communicating the positions of these highly sought after wildlife.

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The lion would pass right by the observation vehicle

During the safe times one could get out of the vehicle and stretch ones legs, always a welcome diversion. My daughters favourite pastime was to follow the rodent tunnels in the grass and find the rodent nests. High pitched squeaks would be her cue that little new-born rodents were available to be loved. They were caught and released back to their homes after having been given much love.

Was Thandora normal?

It was during these ‘safe’ times that I would walk Thandora during her exercise sessions. On one such occasion, my daughter called out to me to warn me that one of the bull elephants, Bully, was standing between me and the vehicle. I was at that stage on the other side of the holding Boma, probably 500m from the vehicle.

This was one of the moments I had been waiting for. To observe how Thandora would react to seeing one of the elephants on the reserve. She stood perfectly still, not moving a limb as Bully slowly approached the Boma. My daughter on the other hand was fretting about me being cut off from the vehicle, I was pretty relaxed that Bully was not interested in me, but there was one part of me wondering where the lion were?

In an earlier blog I mentioned that I was intrigued by Thandora’s stereotypy. Now I was even more intrigued after observing her strange two step emerge again. Thandora acted like no other elephant I had ever observed when she was approached by another elephant.

animal care
Thandora and Bully

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