Beejal’s Blog – EHRA Volunteer Nov ’16

Hello there past and future EHRA volunteers and staff. My name is Beejal ~ I’m a Vancouverite who volunteered with EHRA around Nov 1, 2016.  Here goes my 411 on the experience (but first a bit of back history on “why”):

EHRA to me was more of a spiritual experience. I’ve been wanting to do something with my own hands in terms of trying to help elephants (and all wildlife in general). I’m a financial contributor to organizations like WWF, Sea Shepard and David Sheldrick Wild Life Trust, but I felt I needed to do more. EHRA fit perfectly.

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I have always been a lover of nature and wildlife since I was a kid. I would watch nature TV shows way before they become “popular” like they are today. To admit I watched those shows back then would put me in the “nerd” category in school : ) ~ but hey, watch what you love, right?

The news about elephants, whales, tigers and the like being slaughtered for profit has always disgusted me. I wrote a “fairness blog” that I let EHRA staff Chris and Kaylee read, I think they were a bit surprised at my take on that. I don’t believe corporations have a right to exploit anything they want for profit at the expense of species and indigenous peoples being obliterated.

Also, there’s a show I saw on CNN called “Heros” in 2015 where CNN showcases 20 unique individuals who were truly selfless in their acts of volunteerism, giving, and dedicating their lives to a “cause”. To me, people like that, the wild life park rangers, environmental volunteers (even the ones who camp in trees to keep them from being logged) are doing gods work. Anyways, back to CNN, there was an American woman who went to Nepal after the earthquakes recently. She saw little girls who were abandoned by their families chipping rocks in a river bed to earn money. This woman was so heart broken to witness that she vowed right then and there to save at least one girl from this fate. This woman’s goal was to one day look down on that river bed and not see a single little girl chipping rocks. There must have been hundreds of little Nepalese girls toiling in the river bed. Long story short, this American woman opened a small school and boarding house for little girls next to the river bed. During that CNN broadcast, she told the audience that her goal was achieved, and in 3 years, there was now not 1 little girl in that river bed chipping rocks. All the girls were being taken care of by her orphanage, and all thriving. This story really inspired me. I thought, if by my own hands I can help save even 1 elephant from human/elephant conflict by helping to build a wall around a well, I must do this. If I can save 1, maybe in time, the universe will see to it that ALL are saved someday. I’d like to think years from now (or hopefully even months from now), the world trade in ivory and all wildlife will cease. That’s my wish. That’s what I pray for.

And lastly, I’m a Hindu. Hindu’s believe in the elephant god Ganesh. I felt I can’t pray to the elephant god and just sit back and watch the real elephant gods that walk this earth get slaughtered. I had to do something.

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Namibia arrival and EHRA:
I know Swakopmund, I’ve been in 2011 when I went to Etosha, so it was kind of familiar. I never thought I’d return though, but in 2016 I did. Our group was briefed by Kaylee on that Sunday and I knew I was gonna be in for some serious work (hard labour). I’m the first to admit that I’m a princess. ; ) I didn’t think I could live without my shower, bed, walls, electricity and all that. But I did. For elephants, I had do this.

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My advice to any of you who are thinking of giving EHRA a try, just do it. If princess Beejal can do it, anybody can do it. Trust me.

Getting to basecamp was kind of surreal in a way. I was blown away. I really liked it. We got to sleep in a tree house. I got the “honeymoon suite”. Everything was looking good. All us volunteers were all sitting around the main table after getting to camp wondering when or if we’ll see an elephant. BOOM. A big bull elephant walked by camp. We couldn’t believe it. They’re soooooo quiet. I couldn’t believe it. None of us had our cameras ready either. So, we all hurriedly got our cameras out in case there was another. BOOM again. A 2nd bull walked by. I got him on my sony NEX 5. The bulls stuck around that evening and came into camp at dusk. It was totally a religious experience for me. I’m thinkin’ “the 40 hour flight to Africa was already worth it”.

So, now let me skip over to build week. We were in some small village about 3 hours away from basecamp. It was hard work building that wall. No doubt about it. The heat. The flies. The village kids:) But we all survived. EHRA fed us well and we all did what we could. I happened to get a bunch of “Canada flag” pins from the dollar store before leaving Canada. Man, distributing them to the local kids made me feel like santa claus. It was cool.

Now, patrol week. I’ll keep this short and sweet (just like me): It was absolutely priceless. ; )

Thanks Chris, Kaylee, Matias (young and old), Rachel and the rest of the EHRA staff. This experience is now tattooed in my mind forever.

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Volunteer Project 19 March – 1 April 2017

Name: Kim Wusten

Country: Holland

Age: 32

Project Date: 19 March – 1 April 2017

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Why did you choose to Volunteer with EHRA?

My friend Flo volunteered last year in Zimbabwe, a project dedicated to Lions.  She selected this project and asked me to join.  I am a big animal fan but the elephants and human aid aspect appeals a lot.  It’s good to also focus on the core of the problem; lack of awareness and knowledge and EHRA understands that.

What was build week like?

Build week was great.  The ‘owner’ of the water tank said he heard from others that the wall helps.  It was good to build a wall AND muscles.  We had so much fun with our group that even when it’s heavy, hot and dirty the mood was always really good.  Old Mattias and his hip dance, his cat ringtone, Thomas/Michael/Stephan who are just gas (literally and in speak!) Duncan who managed to get scorpion/spider/centipedes in his bed!!!! Great week.

What happened on your patrol?

A Lot! This was a very cool patrol, ranging from proper 4×4 off road mud driving in rivers, driving through red dunes and out on the open grass areas.  We’ve seen Mama Afrika’s herd, G6 with the ‘unknown’ herd and the H2 Herd at the Huab River area.  One of the males passed us in between our cars and was so close I could have touched him.  A mummy elephant and her two year old were also really close to us, unforgettable.

What will you remember most about your time with EHRA?

The feeling of living a more slow paced life where Mother Nature is ruling and very present.  Here you have wildlife how it should be, not in a zoo and not in a national park but free.  I will also remember the experience and knowledge of Chris and Mattias.  There is so much you can learn from them.  Plus my dream to sleep in a tree, like Rafiki from the Lion King, came true!!!

 

Name: Stephen Jeffery

Age: 22

Country: Wales

Project dates: 19 Feb – 1 April 2017

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Had you ever seen an elephant before?

Yes but only in Zooz or safari parks surrounded by cars/on the tele!

How did you feel when you first saw an elephant with EHRA and where did you see them (was it in camp/build week/patrol)?

First live elephant I saw was on the Wednesday afternoon of patrol week.  It was amazing to see them all together eating away happily.

What did you learn about the problems of people and elephants living together?

Learnt of the difficulties in sharing the land between farmers and elephant with them in direction competition for water sources and food.  And the problems arising from people not knowing how to properly act around elephants.

What will you always remember from you time with EHRA?

Voortrekker passing between the cars.

Dave the elephant coming up to say hello.

And sadly the ‘destroyed’ problem elephant that had been shot.

 

Name: Ruth Wemmer-Lueg

Age: 48

Country: Germany

Project date: 20 March – 1 April 2017

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Have you travelled or volunteered before? If so where?

I have travelled to many different countries like India, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Venezuela, Mexico..I stayed with EHRA for 2 weeks in February 2016

Was the experience with EHRA what you thought it would be?

As I was here before I knew what to expect that was why I decided to come back!

How did you like sleeping outside?

I liked sleeping outside under the stars very much.  It is amazing to wake up at night and look into the sky.  Luckily we had mosquito nets!

How did you find not washing?

It was really a problem for me even if I felt really dirty.  I realise again how precious water is.  In our countries we waste water too often!

Patrol week by Chris March 2017

Making a guest apperance on the EHRA Blog this week is our very own Chris! Read what he has to say about the last patrol week:

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‘We set off on Monday and drove to a farm not too far from camp and saw fresh ele tracks walking down the road we were on. As we were about to climb a hill, somebody spotted an elephant in the Mopane trees. It was Voortrekker!

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When we followed him we realised the whole of the Ugab elephant population was with him and they ALL walked past the car! Some of the Huab elephants from H2 were also present. They walked to a grassy plain to the east of the dune field and grazed, with the Brandberg as a back drop it could not have a been a more perfect and relaxing encounter!

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We stretched a tarpaulin between the car and two Mopane trees for shade and had lunch in a field of yellow flowers! In the afternoon we went back to see the elephants to try and get some outstanding ID photos and to ID which elephants from the Huab herd were there.

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On Tuesday we found them at the same spot and they then went to drink at a pan that got filled up by the rains. On Tuesday afternoon we went to the Huab and to our surprise it had just flowed! We had to do it so we drove into the river. After much pushing and laughing we reached our sleeping spot dry and safe.

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On Wednesday after not finding elephant tracks for the other Huab herds we drove towards Twyfelfontein and found H2 at the dam. They were very red from the sand they had thrown over their backs. Wednesday night we had a good sleep and even heard a hyena!

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On Thursday we check back in with H2, the herd had not moved far and Monica, one of the female calves, strolled up to my car and sniffed the front tire!!
One of my best patrols in the five years I have been with EHRA!’

Mallory’s Blog Feb 2017

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Name: Mallory Butler

Country: United States of America

Project date: January 23 – February 4 2017

Why did you choose to volunteer for EHRA?

I chose to volunteer with EHRA because it was rugged and not as “pampered “ as some of the other organisations I researched to volunteer at. I was looking for an environmentally based Elephant volunteer organisation in Africa. EHRA fit perfectly with my personality, interest and dreams. I was really gravitated towards the team spirit feel and camaraderie that would be gained while volunteering there.

What was build week like?

Build week was wonderful, challenging and growth inducing all in one. It was very nice to know that we were building infrastructure in the village where elephants had done damage. Building a wall that would protect one of the villager’s water sources gave me a good feeling. It is clear to see that the people could use an extra hand regarding certain aspects of their livelihood. I understand the human/elephant conflict here is a complex one and I wanted to be respectful of them while lending a hand as well. The work was good hard work, but doing it all together as a group created a bond that only we can share!

What will you remember most about your time with EHRA?

I will remember so many things about my time with EHRA. As I write this entry I have only been here 4 days but I have already gained a treasure trove worth of memories! To me, these are invaluable when we first got here, the very first day, the very first hour, an elephant came casually walking down the river bed towards the direction of the campsite. It was absolutely magnificent. The sun was beginning to set and so he was illuminated beautifully in the evening light. It was almost as though I was dreaming. But, there have been so many memories that I have experienced. Getting to know all of the guides and their playful spirit and banter back and forth, sharing stories and laughter over dinner with a mouth-watering meal, I think most of all I will remember the friends I’ve made and the special connection I share with them and no one else in my life.

 

Last blog of 2016!

Volunteer Blog 28th November – 8th December 2017

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This morning we encountered Voortrekker and another bull and even a giraffe!

Then we drove North and then west towards Doros Crater.  The landscape is amazing a cross between Monument Valley USA and the Moon!  We had lunch then a siesta in a small canyon which was part of an old tin mine.

Ready for the afternoon jumped in the Olifant but unfortunately we have run out of electricity! Doh! A bit of bush mechanics and swapping of batteries got us on the road again!

The following day we headed towards Hyena Camp, across the moonscape, seeing several zebra and some rhino tracks.  Hyena camp, what is there to say, simply magnificent, truly awesome sunset and sunrise.  A quick wake up from Chris at 0130h had myself and him making night shots of the Milky Way!

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Stephen, Australia (Third time volunteering for EHRA)

It surely was a blue Monday, we were packed and ready for patrol then oops we forgot the cups!  Not so far from camp going west Levi spots the first elephants.  We had lunch under a beautiful big Ana Tree.  We saw Bellatrix and Tatiana and I have to admit I fell in love with Tatiana!

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We stop at the Brandberg White Lady Lodge, we had a swim, played monopoly and yippee ate an ice cream! We then moved on and collected wood.

As a Namibian I always sang our national anthem which talks of, ‘beautiful Namibia’, but I had never seen it growing up in the towns, but going up the Brandberg I could not stop admiring the beautiful Namibia.  We set camp and then prepared Thai Curry which was delicious, it’s become my favourite dish!

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Fina, Namibia

Well! Let me not start with how it went early in the morning, let me start from the previous night when I woke up in the middle of the night because of a cold breeze hitting my head from the west coast, the moment I snapped open my eyes I could see green and red flashing lights on tripods and realised that Chris and Stephen were up to something, taking photos of the Milky Way!!! I looked up and down, the sky was beautiful, full of stars and the most brightest.  I am not sure if they saw the shooting start but yeah my eyes gazed at it as it faded away.  The next thing I knew I was gone, sleeping.

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Ok now back to what I should be wiring about on the morning of the 7th!  It was chilled, the cold breeze still moving in Hyena Camp.  Everything started smooth with Stephen and I waking Wilma up because she was on duty together with Kristy.  We finished up with breakfast packed up and jumped on Olifant for the adventure.  This time around we were heading north of the camp and made a little stop to see something huge – The Petrified Forest.  Along the way further north we would see the astonishing landscapes, mountains that appeared in black and red colours and one filled with sand, looked like a dune mountain.  Wildlife got more (not that much) first zebra, ostrich, springbok, kudu and some black rhino dung.

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Landed in the Huab River and headed east upstream with Chris doing what he does best – tracking elephants.  Not that long but a little further from where we entered the river we witnessed the almighty species, the ones that we actually came to see – THE ELEPHANTS! It was a beautiful sight.  Even National Geographic would have been jealous of it.  A couple of minutes passed by with all the camera snapping and we had to leave the elephants alone to go look for a big shady tree for lunch.

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We ate lunch, had a chat and the rest of the group joined forces to play cards while I found myself on Olifant with a black pen and a book – writing a blog.

It is truly a blessing.

Levi, Namibia

When Johannes first met the Ugab Elephants….

Up until around 1998 desert dwelling elephants only sporadically visited the Ugab river from the north, likely following ancient migrating routes. When we did find tracks it was mostly of a big bull in his prime, he got the name Voortrekker, meaning pioneer. The Matriarchal herds however, had still not followed.

 

Around 1998/99 I was guiding a group from the British group Raleigh International on a two week walk down the Ugab to the coast. They were rough expeditions in those days, no tents, a couple of large pots to cook horrible stodgy pasta in, and otherwise surviving on a seemingly endless stream of cream cracker rations, divided down to the last quarter to stave off starvation.

Camping wild in the open far down the winding canyons, the last thing we expected was to bump into elephants.

 

Under a large Anna tree, one evening round the fire, a breathless group leader, Jade, came running into camp with her shorts halfway up her knees. With eyes like saucers she shouted in a hushed whisper. “I was having a pee behind the bush an something large fell behind me! Like a dup, dup, dup, and then a rush of water! “

Jade was sharing her evening ablutions with an elephant.

Not good. Pitch black night. In the open. Nowhere to run. A campfire under one large tree. 15 kids and me. God knows how many elephants.

Silently I got them huddled around the base of the tree and stoked the fire in front of them. The sounds where all round, soft rumbles, branches snapping. Unmistakably from of a herd of elephants moving and feeding around us in the dark. And we are crapping ourselves.

As it is in theory my job, I place myself between the closest sounds and the group, brandishing the two lids of our large pots. Ready to be the cymbal player to my own death-march.

To hear an elephant at night is kind of reassuring. You know they are going about their business. When it goes suddenly quite it’s time to panic. That eternal silence when every sense strains to find clues, and my death cymbals tremble out of control in stable hands.

The cow charged in complete silence. Low, trunk tucked in under her chest. The charge you only want to read about. Everything slows down to the pace of those ancient black and white movies, frame by frame.

Frame one, five meters. Que cymbal. Frame two, four meters. Que cymbal accompanied by loud screams. Frames three and four, large object somewhere in obscuring dust. Cymbals and scream reach a crescendo. Somehow the brain decides that it’s a good thing that I cannot see her anymore, and makes some time to reflect on it. And somewhere in that obscuring cloud she managed to pirouette herself back into the darkness. A very, very long three seconds all of that took from start to finish.

The second charge was not that quiet. Somewhere in the background the brain was running a comparison to come up with an accurate description of the sound she was making. How it decided on a walrus having its throat slit with a blunt hacksaw, I have no idea. But that’s what she sounded like. Accompanied by cymbals of course. And the mandatory screaming, that was by my own admittance becoming quite profound.

The pirouette this time however, was accompanied by a dramatic upsweep of the trunk. Or that’s how the brain translated the sudden rush of air past my head. But the brain had time to smile as it realised she is impairing her own accuracy with all the dust created by these dramatic stops and pirouettes.

As I bore quickly, all I can say about charge three and four is: Same old same old. The badly animated black and white movie with glimpses of something large coming and going in a cloud of dust. The suffering walrus accompanied by the cacophony of my cymbals and voiced terms of endearments.

And then, as I was thinking we were starting to get the hang of this pantomime, without making any excuses, she left. In a hurry. In her wake followed the silent grey ghosts that formed the rest of our audience for that evening’s performance. Leaving me with a vague feeling that I somehow missed my calling in life.

Thankfully before I could make any compulsive career changing decisions, i looked down to investigate the warm sticky feeling between my toes. Seeing the blood from my shredded knuckles drip, dripping on my bare feet a meter away from the marks of her last stop, I realised. No, I might be too aggressive to play the cymbals. And my performance clearly did not appeal to such a sensitive audience.

And that, my friends, is how I met the first desert elephants to move into the Ugab River Valley. Mama Afrika’s herd, and the murderous pirouetting cow called Medusa.

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Medusa – who always remained fairly grumpy until she died in 2016
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The very basic camps
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Johannes’ house on the Ugab

 

Volunteer Blog 17th-28th October 2016

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Today was a day to travel. We left base camp and drove four hours to the farm where our first project would be. On our way we passed many small shacks with women and children selling crafts on the side of the road.  We set up camp and then cooked dinner. For lunch, we stopped on the side of the road where we had sandwiches.

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After lunch we continued driving for about an hour until we arrived at the farm where we wanted to build a wall around a water well which was already damaged by the elephants. We first set up the tents and then started working for about one hour, and then we had dinner.  The dinner was cooked above an open fire and was a South African recipe with chicken in it. We all sat around the fire and talked until we went to sleep tired and very happy.

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18/10/2016 Ilka from Germany

Waking up in the morning was spectacular: The red sun rose on the sandy African earth, combined with campfire made for our coffee and tea….and porridge J

Rehannon and I were on duty and making breakfast. Sitting around the campfire having breakfast is like being in a film scene, unreal! After cleaning up and washing the dishes we were off to build our wall. Lots of stones, cement, sand, water and a good spirit helped us to make a good beginning.

When Jelina and I made breakfast we didn’t make enough. Whoopsie! Its day three and still no elephants on building week.

The locals came to help build the wall. Mark asked if they find it odd people from all over come to volunteer. The local said that he was very appreciated, because the community benefits from it. It’s nice to know our work is valued. After/during and before dinner, we all talked about certain things from our home countries. Also Adolf got stung by a scorpion! (a small one!)

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19/10/2016 Rehannon Kramer

We got rocks and sand to build more wall. Had a break, built more wall. Had lunch, built more, then we stopped for the day. For dinner we had chicken and mash, which was made on the campfire of course.  In the evening I bought an elephant painting for a mere 250NAD, the elephant presented is supposedly called Thomas.

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We woke up later then usually and ate toast for breakfast. After that we worked until lunch. The wall is now looking really good. We drove back to base camp, which was long but actually it was quite fun, because we were listening to great music. We arrived at base camp around 16h30. We thought we could finally take a shower after the past hot days, but we couldn’t and that wasn’t a problem at all, because it already cooled down and we can jump in the pool tomorrow, so it was fine. Now we are having a nice evening!

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Today we went into town, Uis, to the Rest camp. We showered! To get all the sand off of our bodies was so nice. We also got in contact with our friends and family back home which was really nice. For lunch we were spoiled with burgers (which were so yummy) and milk shakes, ALSO yummy. Tonight we are having springbok for dinner which I think is new to all of us. We also stopped on the way back to base camp and looked at the shops from locals. We also met Adolf’s son, he’s so cute, very shy, but I got a high five out of him, so that was nice! Chris is making fun of everyone especially the Germs. But it’s all in good fun.

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And by the way we visited on the way back some local stalls along the road. Really colourful, the Herero women had beautiful clothes on and were sewing little dolls and bags, surrounded by a lot of beautiful children. We bought some bracelets and other local souvenirs. Again it was a great day!

22/10/2016 Jelina Staarman

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25/10/2016

Today was a great day. We were driving in weeds and bush as high as or higher than a truck when all of the sudden we came to a complete stop. We were head on with two female elephants. ‘Do not talk, do not move’, Chris said in the most serious tone I’ve heard him use ever. The elephants wandered along the side of the car like we were no big deal (because we aren’t compared to them) but it was amazing to see the elephants in such close quarters.

We continued to track until we had found the others in the herd. There was probably 10-15 in the herd, maybe more. We stopped by a waterhole and also saw lion tracks. Chris thought they were 3 days old.

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After lunch we climbed a hill/mountain to get an aerial view of the elephants. It was really special because not only did we get to see elephants, wild might I add, just moving along like they’ve done for 1000’s of years, but we also got to see the rugged beauty of some of Namibia’s landscapes. Something’s that lot of people will never see in a lifetime.

 

October 26, 2016

We saw shooting stars and the moon on the last night and slept well, waking to a slight dew on our bags. Breakfast of porridge and hot drinks and set off on patrol at 8am. We saw our first elephant at 08h30am. Following a lesson on elephant tracking and footprints ID with Chris. We then saw elephants heading east in the riverbed – 13 in total. We drove west and saw a large kudu and lion in the green bush! We continued west and saw another group of elephants including a baby born in Jan 2016. The baby elephant was very “frisky” and inquisitive and we took lots of great photos. The elephants were reaching high in the tree for green food. LUNCH. Not as hot today (28°c) and much less flies!!! After a sleep we saw the baby again and the adults were stripping tree bark for nutrients – not good for trees. Chris collected a poo sample for DNA tests.

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