Final week in Africa

After the Think Tank near Kruger NP, I had to find my way to my second conference, Frugivory and Seed Dispersal 2015, in the Drakensbergs

All went well for several hours, although I was slowed down a bit by lengthy detours from roadworks, until I left Bergville, close to sunset, and the longer I drove the less it looked like I was going the right way. Finally it was quite dark and I was driving down narrow country roads with people, goats and cows occasionally wandering along on them.  I stopped to ask directions from some ladies, but we had some language problems, or perhaps they just hadn’t hard of my destination.  Finally when driving through a small village I saw a shop that was open, pulled up to the door and called out to the shop attendant.  He was friendly and helpful and told me I had to travel the 20 km back to Bergville and take the road out the other side. When I finally got to the right road and saw a sign pointing to Alpine Heath Resort I actually called out ‘thank you’ to it.

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The Alpine Heath Resort is in a dramatic setting in the Drakensbergs.

People from all over the world presented fascinating papers over the next few days on seed dispersal by frugivores (fruit eating animals), from insects to elephants.  I presented a report on some work-in-progress on what determines whether native fig seeds and seedlings germinate and persist after being dispersed by birds and bats.

There were symposia on ecology and evolution, the chemical ecology of seed dispersal, international networks, patterns and processes in frugivore-plant interactions, understanding seed dispersal, see dispersal and plant recruitment in a changing world, anthropogenic impacts on seed dispersal, seed dispersal by animals as an ecological filter, movement ecology and genetic effects, and conservation of environmental services, with many good talks presented within each.

You can download a copy of the abstracts of presentations here: http://www.fsd2015.ukzn.ac.za/images/ABJULFINAL.pdf

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FSDdinner

A mid-week fieldtrip took us to the Nambiti Game Reserve where I had my final chance to see lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos and rhinos, as well as my first hartebeest and oryx (the oryx is Namibian rather than South African, but have been released into the reserve)

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Hartebeest
Hartebeest

 

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Seeng an orx
Seeing an oryx

 

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After the conference I booked for a horse ride that included a wild gallop up a hill and my first view of an eland.  During the conference I had also seen jackals and small antelopes at night, plus a number of birds, and heard that someone had seen secretary birds flying over. I suggested n my feedback form to the resort that they mention the wildlife in their promotion, and they have responded that they will try to fit it in to their website.

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The next International Frugivory and Seed Dispersal Symposium will be held in India in 2020.

Africa Diary: Best En Think Tank

One last elephant by the roadside on my way out of Kruger. A good-tempered one this time, just quietly feeding.
One last elephant by the roadside on my way out of Kruger. A good-tempered one this time, just quietly feeding.

I’ve left Kruger, and am staying at the Protea Hotel ready for the BEST Education Network Think Tank XV: The Environment People Nexus in Sustainable Tourism: Finding the Balance. I’m still just across the river though, so can look across into Kruger and still hope to see elephants and hippos, and there are monkeys and birds in the garden. We’ll also be having a conference field trip back into Kruger tomorrow for a sunset drive.

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have to switch my mental faculties now from wildlife-watching mode to conference and networking mode. I would have liked another month or so of the wildlife watching, but this should be a very worthwhile conference. Because I’m representing Wildlife Tourism Australia at the Think Tank, I’ll now switch to recording events, including interesting bit of information and ideas from the conference and notes on our field trips, on the Wildlife Tourism Australia blog: http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au

Africa Diary: Final days in Kruger NP

(NOTE: this is not one of our own tours: I’m exploring Kruger NP before attending two conferences in South Africa)

Diary continued…

I’m really going to miss Kruger! I could easily spend a couple of months here.  Or more.

Kudu are the most common browsers in the Pretoriaskop region. Beautiful animals!
Kudu are the most common browsers in the Pretoriaskop region. Beautiful animals!
A bushbuck was wandering around the picnic area at Asfaal. I was told an elephant wandered in one day!
A bushbuck was wandering around the picnic area at Asfaal. I was told an elephant wandered in one day!

Visitors to my on table (and no, they didn’t get a feed) included glossy starling, yellow-billed hornbill (known locally as the ‘flying banana’) and female and male red-winged starlings

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I made a sound while drinking my sparking marula juice which seemed to arouse this giraffe’s curiosity giraffe through window

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As I said, all animals have right-of-way here, and with some you don’t get much choice anyway!

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This elephant was n a really bad mood. Ear-flapping is a warning, but ears flattened against the head and the trunk curled up could mean a serious attack is imminent.  I decided to go back the other way, and warned other motorists heading in that direction
This elephant was n a really bad mood. Ear-flapping is a warning, but ears flattened against the head and the trunk curled up could mean a serious attack is imminent. I decided to go back the other way, and warned other motorists heading in that direction

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My ‘home’ for my last two nights: a cabin at Skukuza, with its own fridge and shower/toilet (my hut at Pretoriaskop didn’t have these, but its communal ablution block had a bath tub with plenty of hot water: great for relaxing before bed)

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You don’t have to be in one of those very expensive luxury safari lodges to enjoy a hearty, leisurely breakfast  while watching hippos, elephants and a variety of birds from your dining table

Breakfast at Skukuza: all-you-can eat buffet for about $12 Australian
Breakfast at Skukuza: all-you-can eat buffet for about $12 Australian
Definitely the most delicious snails I've ever had. Succulent and flavoursome themselves, and, with garlic butter and melted be cheese
Definitely the most delicious snails I’ve ever had. Succulent and flavoursome themselves, and, with garlic butter and melted be cheese

 

Quite an eventful morning (16th June)

First there was a small pack of wild dogs on the road towards Lower Sabie.  One somehow became separated from the others, stood near my car, occasionally whimpering like a domestic dog, looking for his fellows and finally took off back into the bush

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Soon after, I heard impalas making a fuss about something, so drove down a gravel road in their direction. There I watched two lionesses stalking a giraffe. The giraffe was understandably looking very nervous, and part of me wanted to reassure him that everything’s okay, he’s not about to be killed. On the other hand, those lionesses probably have cubs to feed, and it would take a lot of impala to equal the food supply in one giraffe. I had no desire to see something killed, but I was rather fascinated as to what they intended to actually do. The giraffe’s legs are so long, they could easily walk under its belly even if one was riding on the back of the other. A kick from a giraffe can kill a human, so it can probably do a bit of damage to a lion. How do you tackle something that big?

They finally seemed to decide it was too difficult after all.

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Further along the road there was a traffic jam.  The cause was a big male lion and two lionesses relaxing by the roadside, creating great excitement amongst visitors.

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By now I was feeling a little peckish, and called in at the same picnic stop that had trouble with baboons a few days ago.  I bought a cup of tea and a bag of chips, and the lady had to let me out the other (till now locked) door, as there was a large baboon waiting outside the door I’d come through, ready to leap at my chip bag.

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A marabou stork gains the sunrise on my final morning in Kruger
A marabou stork against the sunrise on my final morning in Kruger

 

Africa Diary: to Lower Sabie and Pretoriaskop, Kruger National Park

(NOTE: this is not one of our own tours: I’m exploring Kruger NP before attending two conferences in South Africa)

Diary continued…

I drove cautiously past a big herd of Buffalo on my way south from Satara, Kruger NP
I drove cautiously past a big herd of Buffalo on my way south from Satara, Kruger NP

 

... and a few minutes later two lions crossed the road!
… and a few minutes later two lions crossed the road!
This is an animal I'd missed out on on both previous visits.  The little Klipspringer, a tiny antelope that lives in much the same habitat as our rock wallabies and apparently just as good at dashing up steep cliffs
This is an animal I’d missed out on on both previous visits. The little Klipspringer, a tiny antelope that lives in much the same habitat as our rock wallabies and apparently just as good at dashing up steep cliffs

 

White rhino near Lower Sabie.  The name is a misnomer, the British misunderstanding the Boer word for 'wide.' It is a grazer, with a wide mouth. The ;black' rhino has a narrow mouth and browses on leaves of shrubs and trees.
White rhino near Lower Sabie. The name is a misnomer, the British misunderstanding the Boer word for ‘wide.’ It is a grazer, with a wide mouth. The ;black’ rhino has a narrow mouth and browses on leaves of shrubs and trees.
Lower Sabie is in an excellent position  for hippo watching!
Lower Sabie is in an excellent position for hippo watching!
My tent in Lower Sabie
My tent in Lower Sabie
Baboons really do make their presence felt, as I found out the next day
Baboons really do make their presence felt, as I found out the next day
Sunrise on the Sabie River
Sunrise on the Sabie River

 

I was thrilled to see two lionesses just after dawn
I was thrilled to see two lionesses just after dawn

 

On the way back towards Sjukiza (which I passed through on route to Pretoriaskop) this baboon opened the door of the shop at the picnic area. Another, bigger one was already inside not allowing shopkeepers access to the cash box
On the way back towards Sjukiza (which I passed through on route to Pretoriaskop) this baboon (in the tree, watching the shop at the picnic area)  opened the door and dashed around inside until hunted out with a broomstick. Another, bigger one was already inside not allowing shopkeepers access to the cash box

 

This monkey looks all innocence, but after this photo he leapt to another table and stole a cake.
This monkey looks all innocence, but after this photo he leapt to another table and stole a cake.

 

Animals at picnic areas are a problem, not just for the humans, but for the animals themselves.  If they get too demanding, as they can do after learning how profitable picnics can be, the rangers may have to remove them, even putting them down if they are dangerous (as large baboons certainly can be, and hyenas even more so: the strength of their jaws is second only to crocodiles).

Africa Diary: Satara (2 nights)

I didn’t see the lions I’d hoped for here (Satara is famous for them) but had plenty of other sightings while driving by day and with a  ranger on a sunset drive

Day time

The sun was still rising as I headed out of camp
The sun was still rising as I headed out of camp

 

Elephants have right of way! Well, so do all wildlife in Kruger, but some elephants really know how t enforce it.
Elephants have right of way! Well, so do all wildlife in Kruger, but some elephants really know how t enforce it.

 

Male ostrich
Male ostrich
His mate nearby seemed intent on watching an apparent play fight between two wildebeest
His mate nearby seemed intent on watching an apparent play fight between two wildebeest

 

Zebra suckling
Zebra suckling

 

A very colourful barbet came hopping right up to my car
A very colourful barbet came hopping right up to my car

 

A fish eagle arrives at a dam near Satara
A fish eagle arrives at a dam near Satara

 

Elephants come to drink at the dam. This is part of a breeding herd of about 20 elephants
Elephants come to drink at the dam. This is part of a breeding herd of about 20 elephants

 

Many others, including these baboons, came down for a drink - also giraffes zebras wildebeest, waterbucks and impalas
Many others, including these baboons, came down for a drink – also giraffes zebras wildebeest, waterbucks and impalas

 

 

Sunset Drive

 

Buffalo, towards sunset
Buffalo, towards sunset

 

We saw porcupine. civet and a pair of bull elephants fighting, but not enough light to take good photos
We saw porcupine. civet and a pair of bull elephants fighting, but not enough light to take good photos

 

A marula tree in the sunset
A marula tree in the sunset

Africa Diary: Kruger NP, 3 days in Tamboti

(including solo drives to Satara and elsewhere, and a sunset drive with a ranger)

My home for three nights in Tamboti My home for three nights in Tamboti

The fridge and food cupboard are closed in sturdy ire mesh to protect against monkeys, baboons and honey badgers
The fridge and food cupboard are enclosed in sturdy ire mesh to protect against monkeys, baboons and honey badgers
This verve monkey appeared as soon as I started unpackng my food and I had to tell him ]fairly sternly that no, he was not allowed to leap into the food cupboard
This verve monkey appeared as soon as I started unpackng my food and I had to tell him ]fairly sternly that no, he was not allowed to leap into the food cupboard

 

Day time driving (solo):

Hippo with ox-peckers of back, crocodile and terrapins
Hippo with ox-peckers of back, crocodile and terrapins

 

A pir of amorous warthogs just after dawn
A pir of amorous warthogs just after dawn
The ground hornbill, far bigger than  the other hornbills. There's public call to report any seen with coloured bands pn their legs, burt the two I saw were unbnded
The ground hornbill, far bigger than the other hornbills. There’s public call to report any seen with coloured bands pn their legs, burt the two I saw were unbanded

 

A female kudu reaching up for levels
A female kudu reaching up for levels
On my last journey out of Tamboti a leopard crossed the road in front of me and headed off into the bush
On my last journey out of Tamboti a leopard crossed the road in front of me and headed off into the bush
I always love watching baboons
I always love watching baboons

 

 

Sunset drive with ranger:

Cheetah
Cheetah
Lion feasting on a giraffe that had slipped and drowned i a waterhole. The giraffe was pulled from the water by a tractor but too late to save it.
Lion feasting on a giraffe that had slipped and drowned i a waterhole. The giraffe was pulled from the water by a tractor but too late to save it.
Budhbaby
Budhbaby
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Civet
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Hyena: I had heard them calling the night before

African Diary: Kruger NP Skukuza to Tamboti

 

White rhino near Skukuza: I hop he continues to evade any poachers.  There are signs up in public places here asking people to report any suspicious activity that could lead to arrests. Some poachers have been apprehended after tourists raised alarms
White rhino near Skukuza: I hop he continues to evade any poachers. There are signs up in public places here asking people to report any suspicious activity that could lead to arrests. Some poachers have been apprehended after tourists raised alarms

 

A handsome male kudu
A handsome male kudu

 

Wildebeest: they look top heavy, but their legs are as graceful and swift as racehorses.
Wildebeest: they look top heavy, but their legs are as graceful and swift as racehorses.

 

Hippos basking: they don't feed in the water, or during the day, but come out onto the grassy plain at night to graze
Hippos basking: they don’t feed in the water, or during the day, but come out onto the grassy plain at night to graze

 

Giraffes are very vulnerable to lions in this position.  He did look around a bit before bending.  Maybe he decided there were enough wildebeest to distract any approaching lions.
Giraffes are very vulnerable to lions in this position. He did look around a bit before bending. Maybe he decided there were enough wildebeest to distract any approaching lions.

 

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A black-backed jackal resting after feeding on a rhino carcass (I hope the rhino died of natural causes, not poaching)
A black-backed jackal resting after feeding on a rhino carcass (I hope the rhino died of natural causes, not poaching)

Africa Diary: Into Kruger National Park

I hadn’t been in Kruger more than a minute before I saw my first impala.  Not really surprising: they are by far the most common hoofed animal in the park, but still quite delightful.

Impala near Kruger Gate
Impala near Kruger Gate

 

I was soon also seeing buffalo, kudu and a lovely lilac-breasted roller.

More wildlife awaited me in the Rest Camp, Skukuza.  Wart-hogs casually wander past the cabins, grazing on the lawns.

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My petrol gauge stil registered almost full, so I thought it was malfunctioning, but when I asked for the tank to be filled it only took five dollars.  I was quite impressed with the efficiency of this little Chevrolet.

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A final drive revealed no large animals, but I did see and hear the ‘Go-away’ bird (the grey lowry), hornbills and starlings.

The ant hills between my hut and the river are rather large: I haven’t seen the ants yet.

The moonlight was bright during the nights, so I went out twice to look across the river. I saw one lone heron feeding and heard a few other birds and frogs.

Almost dawn now: let’s see what today brings.

Africa Diary 4th June: Elephant Whiskers & Shangana Culture Village

Elephant Whispers, Hazyview

Note: no chains, no electric prod, just gentle voices and a handful of tasty pellets for rewards
Note: no chains, no electric prod, just gentle voices and a handful of tasty pellets for rewards

I have heard many calls for all elephant riding to be banned, everywhere, on grounds of cruelty. One of the first things explained to us at Elephant Whispers was the cruel way many elephants are trained in Asia and I agree those methods are brutal and I would not want to condone it by riding them.

Putting his trunk up for a reward for stepping forward
Putting his trunk up for a reward for stepping forward

The elephants here at Elephant Whispers are instead trained gently, patiently, winning their trust and rewarding them with tasty and healthy food treats. They were not torn from their mothers for the purpose of training but instead rescued from areas where they would otherwise have been culled. When not doing the public events (2 or at most 3 times a day, and not happening every day) they have thousands of acres of woodland through which to roam freely, but come back to cosy stables to sleep at night.

There is much cruelty in the world, many people doing horrible things to many animals, even back home in Australia (live-baiting of greyhounds, pigs spending their whole lives in tiny pens…) and much that should be banned. This place is not one of them.

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High fives with an elephant!

The younger elephants had been previously rescued from culling and were being kept on cattle farms and enjoyed following the horses while cows were being rounded up. Some of the young men working there found they could hop onto these youngsters while doing this, and that they were very quick to learn voice commands. As the elephants grew they started getting into a bit of mischief, and had enormous appetites, and the people who now run Elephant Whispers took them in and continued training them (and also employed one of the young men who had started interacting with them) – a vastly different story to what happens regularly with the brutal training of young Asian elephants.

Introducing myself to the elephant
Introducing myself to an elephant
Tembo
Tembo

The biggest and oldest elephant, Tembo, had been kept in free-range captivity for many years with a female, until some wild elephants broke in and challenged his right to the relationship. Tembo got a bit upset, started unroofing houses, attacking other animals and doing other things his human neighbours understandably didn’t like, and he was soon to be shot, but the Elephant Whispers folk heard about this, brought him in, and with gentleness and patience won his trust and he became the truly Gentle Giant he is known as today.

Amazingly, one of the elephants, showing great trust in everyone, lay down and immediately put his trunk out for his food rewards, and allowed us to stroke and examine his trunk, tusks, ear, tail and feet.

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Meeting Tembo
Meeting Tembo
He is big!
He is big!
As his trunk swung down I felt a fine mist of water. I was advised to step out sideways to avoid accidentally colliding with a tusk.
As his trunk swung down I felt a fine mist of water. I was advised to step out sideways to avoid accidentally colliding with a tusk.

 

Tempo shows us his molars and tongue. The tongue is not very flexible: all manoeuvring of food must be done with the trunk tip
Tempo shows us his molars and tongue. The tongue is not very flexible: all manoeuvring of food must be done with the trunk tip

The rides last only 15 minutes, and only happen two or three times a day, and not every day for every elephant, and then they are turned loose to wonder thousands of acres of woodland before coming into the stable at night.

I have refused to patronise horse-riding establishments where their animals are not looked after. I felt quite comfortable that these elephants are much  loved, well-cared for and have plenty of free time just to be elephants to there in the woodland every day
I have refused to patronise horse-riding establishments where their animals are not looked after. I felt quite comfortable that these elephants are much loved, well-cared for and have plenty of free time just to be elephants to there in the woodland every day

 

A 'thank you' handful of pellets and a farewell pat to this elephant, whose name means 'friend.'
A ‘thank you’ handful of pellets and a farewell pat to this elephant, whose name means ‘friend.’

 

Shangana Culture Village

The Shangana market: each hut has a different set of wooden carvings
The Shangana market: each hut has a different set of wooden carvings

This is a true Africa Village, and the chief you get to meet really is the chief of this village and of many other Shangana people in the region.  This is the kind of African experience I missed experiencing on my previous two visits to South Africa and was very glad I decided to spend a couple of nights in Hazyview so I could visit both Shangana and Elephant Whispers.

Wooden carvings in the market are all made by local people, so by buying here you are contributing to the local economy, not some big international chain. I bought a lovely wooden kudu and a warthog.

Although I was the only guest for the day, my guide, Edward, took me through the entire tour. He showed me the wild chestnut which is ground for flavouring of spinach and other dishes, and talked of the other foods and medicines grown there. They are independent of the money economy for their basic needs. He also explained much about marriage and other aspects of the Shagana culture.

We walked to the village, where Edward called for the chief and asked his permission for us to enter, and for me to take photos. He explained which hut was the chief’s, which for each of his wives, which for the girls, the boys etc.

Blowing the kudu horn to let villagers know we're on our way
Blowing the kudu horn to let villagers know we’re on our way
Shangana Village
Shangana Village
Meeting the Chief
Meeting the Chief
Tools for grinding maize etc.
Tools for grinding maize etc. (Edward in background)

The traditional doctor showed me her various medicines and the collection of bones used somehwat as tarot cards, translated by Edward.

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Finally the feast, starting with an appetiser of mopani worms, a caterpillar that feeds on the mopani tree. On my first visit to South Africa I had asked whether it was possible to try traditional African foods, and someone said contemptuously ‘you could eat insects like the natives!” This annoyed me in two ways: it was obviously racist, and eating insects really isn;t much different from eating crustaceans they would probably consider a delicacy. I have eaten two kinds of caterpillar previously, witcheti grubs in Australia, and caterpillars from the bamboo in China, so was very happy to try the mopani worms. They were salty and chewy.

Mopani worms: I ate about eight I think. Not bad, not a lot of flavour though.
Mopani worms: I ate about eight I think. Not bad, not a lot of flavour though.
A very hearty feast!
A very hearty feast!

 

This place deserves to be much better known.  It is too easy to pass through South Africa without much introduction to traditional culture.

Not to be missed if you’re coming through Hazyview!

African Diary 2-3 June 2015

 

I wasn’t expecting to have an trouble with my passport going through customs, but it seems it got a bit moisture-damaged on my last travels, when I was constantly wearing it in a money belt under my clothes, and I’m told I should replace it because the photo is discoloured on one side (although no details are lost and despite it being a terrible photo you can still identify me from it).

I’m starting to believe I’m in Africa.  Getting on the plane in Brisbane, then on another in Perth didn’t really do it. Even arriving in Johannesburg: just a big, bustling airport. I did manage to hire a router from Vodacom to connect with Internet throughout my travels here, and my iPhone finally started working when my husband Denis called Telstra from Australia and asked them to change one of their settings for roaming.

arriving Neilspruit1Flying over the Drakenburgs as we approached Neilspruit: now, I suddenly thought hey, yes, this is Africa. The bush veldt vegetation as we came down for a landing, and the very African-style airport all looked great. And although it seems a bit silly, somehow seeing my name on the boarding pass just before boarding the plane had suddenly excited me: yes, that’s me, the same as the little girl who dreamed constantly about exploring Africa more than half a century ago. That’s me, and I’m in Africa.

I was a bit nervous about picking up my little Chevron hire car, after all I’d heard about dangers of women driving alone in Africa, but soon started enjoying the drive to Hazyview, through what could at times have been the Adelaide Hills with its pine plantations, eucalypt plantations, orchards  and hilliness, but then there’d be some dramatically different plants or an African market and yes, I’m really in Africa. I found myself going the wrong way on a street in White River, but met nothing but friendliness when I asked for directions and got on the right track back towards Hazyview.

 GeckoLodgeI’m staying at Gecko Lodge, a cosy, attractive place that has guest rooms, backpacker accommodation and camping surrounded by bush and very comfortable.

Tomorrow, off to see for myself one of the elephant sanctuaries.  There has been a lot of talk about all elephant riding being cruel, but I suspect some establishments are much better than others, and Elephant Whispers sounds very good. They seem to do a lot of educating about elephants, and activities other than rides, and their elephants were not deliberately forced away from their mothers in the wild, but from what I understand were brought in due to injuries or taken from other situations such as circuses.  Anyway, I’ll see it tomorrow.