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Walking in the footsteps of giants

In May 2019, an inspiring family from the USA joined our Rhino & Elephant Conservation Programme in Zimbabwe, and found themselves on a life-changing adventure. We are delighted to include below an excerpt from their blog about their time in Africa, and hope that it will inspire other families to consider a family volunteer experience for the next holiday.

Nothing in the world is like walking with elephants, not even swimming in the ocean with dolphins and manta rays. When you walk on land, you breathe the air that your lungs were made to absorb, you walk on ground that your legs were made to run across. When you walk with wild animals on land, you don’t feel like you’re in someone else’s house. You realize that you and the animals belong in the same house, and that you are still not the master of that house. Few things are more humbling than that.”

“Mukuvisi is a 12,000-pound male African elephant. Because elephants digest only 44% of the food they eat, and plants have such a low caloric density, elephants eat 5% of their body weight each day to maintain their mass. That means Mukuvisi eats 600 pounds of plant matter between sunup and sundown.

Since Mukuvisi eats 600 pounds of plant matter a day and only digests 44% of that, guess where the other 336 pounds go? Out the backside, just like an industrial hay baler.

Elephants walk and eat, producing trails of dung behind them. Compared to human and dog manure, it’s very clean and doesn’t smell bad. My father told me that when he was a child in Cambodia, the village children would follow behind elephants and jump into their droppings with their bare feet to feel the warmth. We decided not to do that while we walked behind Mukuvisi, but if we stepped in a dry pile of elephant dung left from a previous walk, we didn’t flinch. That’s what you call perspective.”

“What is it like walking with elephants? Peaceful and quiet. Mukuvisi rumbled happily when he found a tree with branches to his liking, and farted loudly to make room for more. Other than that, the only sounds were our own voices–no air conditioners, no planes, no phones dinging.

Despite how massive an animal an elephant is, its footfalls are nearly silent because its feet are thickly padded and spread out when the elephant puts weight on them. In fact, an elephant exerts fewer pounds per square inch than a woman in heels. Elephants can also directionalize vibrations in the ground by lifting one foot and triangulating the source of that vibration using its other three feet. Elephants are incredible creatures.”

“Whereas Sita had bonded with Gomo the rhino (who you will meet in a future part), Nikhil bonded with Mukuvisi the elephant. It’s hard to know whether the children choose them or the animals choose the children, but it’s probably both.

One of the great mysteries of life is how interspecies friendships happen, like when a fox befriends a dog, or a cow befriends a tortoise. It’s such a mystery because at least one of the two species can’t tell us why they entered into that friendship, and the two species can’t talk to each other. Or can they?”

This is just an excerpt from Ted’s blog – please click to read the full version, and Part 1 (‘Closer than we ever dared‘).

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If you’d like to bring your family on a life-changing volunteer journey, please take a look at our family volunteering page, or click below to find out more about our Rhino & Elephant Conservation Programme in Zimbabwe. To ask any questions, please get in touch!

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