THE REAL ELEPHANT WALK 2009, bg CLICK to advance
Mfuwe Lodge: The hotel is set in an idyllic national parkland.
Elephants march through hotel lobby after it was built on their migration trail . Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia happens to have been built next to a mango tree that one family of pachyderms have always visited when the fruit ripens. When they returned one year and found the luxury accommodation in the way, they simply walked through reception.
“ Let the porter grab your trunk”: An elephant wanders through Mfuwe Lodge, in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.
T he animals came in two-by-two: Hotel staff and visitors have got used to the elephants' impromptu strolls through reception. N ow the family group, headed by matriarch Wonky Tusk , return every November to gorge on mangos - up to four times a day. Andy Hogg, 44 , director at the Bush camp Company that runs the Lodge, has lived in South Luangwa National Park since 1982, But in all his years of dealing with wild animals he has never seen such intimate interaction between man and beast. ”This is the only place in the world where elephants freely get so close to humans,” says the 44-year-old. T he elephants start coming through base camp in late November of each year to eat the mangos from our trees. When they are ripe they come through and they stay for about four to six weeks, coming back each day or second day to eat the mangos. Living in the 5,000 square mile national park. the ten-strong elephant herd IS led to the lodge each day by Wonky Tusk.
Migration route: The hotel was built directly in the path of the elephants' route to one of their favorite foods – mangos .
“ The most interesting thing about this is that they are wild animals and are certainly not tame,” explains Andy. ”They come through the lodge to eat the fruit.”
T here are ten in that herd and it is only that herd that comes through. It is a strange thing. T he matriarchal in the herd is Wonky Tusk, and she brings the nine others through and they come and go as they please. M fuwe Lodge consists of seven camps and the base camp, where the elephants come through . E mploying 150 staff, the management of the lodge is happy to report that there have been no incidents involving the elephants to date. ” T he elephants do get reasonably close to the staff as you can see from the pictures of the elephants near the reception,” he explains. ”But we do not allow the guests to get too close.“
Check-in: But it's unlikely the lodge has a room big enough for its elephant guests
“ Guests can stand in the lounge as long as there is a barrier between the elephants and the guests, that is okay,” he added.
” B ut as I said, they are still wild and still dangerous. They are huge beasts and untamed. We have bricks and walls between the elephants and the guests such as the counter and other barriers to stop them getting to people and if they try, there is enough time for people to get away.” N aturally, the lodge becomes a busier attraction for both elephants and guests during November. W e find that we get more people visiting us during the elephant migration because of the unique experience of being so close to wild animals in an unusual environment,” says Andy. “ B ut as I said this is a totally natural phenomenon, the elephants come here of their own accord and it is certainly a rare but magnificent sight.”
“ E ven thought the lodge was unwittingly built upon the path”, Andy says. “they had no idea the elephants would insist on returning. It wasn't a design mistake - no-one really knew they were going to come through,” he says. “ T he lodge was built and afterwards the elephants JUST started coming through.” “ T he elephants are not aggressive but you don’t want to tempt anything as they are wild animals. I t is the elephants choice to come into base camp and they have been doing it for the last ten years. There are other wild mango trees around and they seem to prefer this one.”
Gentle giants: The leader of the ten-strong herd is matriarch Wonky Tusk. “ We keep people at a safe distance. They are obviously close to see what is going on from pretty close quarters, but we always have staff around to make sure the elephants don‘t get too close .”
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