These elephants are the stars of the show at this reserve in Limpopo, South Africa.
They take a moment to stop at the watering pond for a long, cool drink.
But they have some fans eager to meet them – tourists.
Handlers instruct the visitors on how to feed these majestic beasts.
The human-animal interaction is all the more poignant today as it’s World Elephant Day (August 12).
The tourists realise how lucky they are that they are still able to meet one of Africa’s most famous residents.
“I think it’s all about awareness, education, not taking them for granted. And days like today will just bring it to the forefront of people’s minds because life is so busy and hectic, you put everything at the back: they’ll always be there, I’ll always go see them next week, next month, next year,” says Mandy von Buddenbrock, a tourist.
“But this kind of brings to the front the problems that exist, you know, and that they may be not here forever and then what? It would be such a devastating loss. So it’s good, just reminds people to take care and to watch out for them.”
The staff here feel very connected to the elephants.
Handler David Kupupu has been working with the animals for almost 20 years and says he celebrates along with them on World Elephant Day.
“For me, I feel very much honoured that because I’m involved with elephants, too. I’m part of the family, so I’m part of the family, part of the herd. Also for us, in line with our culture and tradition, it is something we can put upon our grandchildren and their children in years to come? So the elephants for me, a day like this, is a shared heritage as something to put upon that elephants are on the map, which is amazing,” he says.
With conservation top of the agenda, the Adventures with Elephants reserve prides itself on being able to connect ordinary people with the animals through unique interactions.
Education and demonstrations conducted by experienced elephant handlers teach visitors about the animals’ traits and habits, such is their incredible memory and their ability to understand their handlers’ commands.
Reserve manger, Sean Hensman, hopes today will bring attention to the elephants’ struggle for survival.
“The World Elephant Day is really just a day highlighting the plight that elephants are facing across the world. Elephants have, in Africa, have been reduced from 4 million elephants in 1920 to only about 400,000 today. And that’s because we as humans have taken all of their land. Our human population has gone from 200 million people to 1.3 billion people. African elephants have, you know, faced that issue. Asian elephants, for every ten African elephants there are there’s one Asian. So we’ve got 40,000 Asian elephants left, for exactly the same reasons.”
In 2021, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the African Savanna Elephants as endangered because the population has fallen by at least 60 percent over the last 50 years.