Driving through the township of Kurland, I noticed a number of signs: ‘Elephant Sanctuary’, ‘Snake Sanctuary’, ‘Wolf Sanctuary’, etc. I was a bit skeptical at first, because I wondered how feasible it was to have any sort of animal sanctuary within walking distance of a small village. There were no apparent wires or walls anywhere…perhaps the signs were all a hoax – or at best, pointed towards animal life further from town. Who lives right next to an elephant sanctuary? (And I do mean ‘next’ to.)
Taking a cue from White people, I chose to investigate.
“Hey Marshall,” I said on Saturday morning, “let’s go check out that elephant sanctuary today.”
I knew that there would be some sort of entry fee, but I expected it to be nominal. We might even get charged a foreigner rate, but it wouldn’t be anything more than 20 bucks, tops. I mean, this is Africa. It’s lush and picturesque everywhere you look. How much could it cost to see something that practically lives in someone’s back yard? We loaded the children in the car and set off for a mini safari.
The children sang songs of praise, thanking us in advance for taking them to see the elephants.
“Epetants! Epetants!” Stone screeched in joyous anticipations.
“Yes, baby. Elephants,” I said warmly. It was a dreary day, but I was willing to face the muck and drizzle in the hopes of seeing some large wildlife up and close and personal.
When we go to the lodge, it was rather impressive. There was elephant artwork all over the place, and overhead sat a massive sculpture of a bull elephant’s head watching you at the entrance of the door. A Black man in a skull cap sat at the reception and ignored us until we were right under his nose. Since he didn’t greet us, I opened the conversation.
“Good morning,” I said. “We’d like to see some elephants please.”
“Okay,” said the man. “But first I’m gonna explain how ees gonna work,” he said in a mixed American/South African/Zimbabwe accent.
“First, you gonna take the elephant by the trunk and lead him to some water. Then, he will display some elephant behavior for you. After an hour, the keeper will return the elephant to him housing and you can return here for some more information on elephants.”
Not very exciting stuff, but whatever. That’s what you get for 20 bucks.
“All this will cost you R325 for each adult and R160 for children. Children under 3 are free,” the man said in conclusion.
Wait…R325? I did some quick math:
If the dollar is trading 1:7 then that’s ($50≤ per adult) + ($16≤ per child) = a month of groceries and a dude that’s out of his mind if he thinks I’m giving him a month’s worth of groceries to watch an elephant take a poo, possibly on one of my kids.
The man and I stared at each other for a moment. Marshall broke the silence.
“Yeah…that’s too much money.”
I called the kids over towards the door and told them we had to go.
“Go and see the elephants?” they asked expectantly.
“Nah…we’re gonna do something else.”
Stone was beside himself.
“Epetants! Ehhhpiiiitaaaants!!!” he howled.
We drove around for a few more minutes and saw a sign for Monkeyland.
“We could give that a try?” I suggested furtively. “Maybe it’s cheaper.”
Our guide was Mr. Hamidi, who also had a mixed up accent. His was more English with a hint of the Islands dashed in, and was more pleasant to the ear. He took us into the entrance of the gated forest and introduced himself with authority. As soon as he began his speech about the history of the park, the phone rang. It was Douche Bag. Ugh.
“Hello?” I whispered harshly.
“Hey. Can I talk to Nadjah?”
I passed her the phone. I assume he asked her where she was because she said she was “in the forest – looking for monkeys.”
Great. Now Old Douche thinks I’m making the child hunt for food. He already thinks Africa is backwards. She hung up shortly after that. (Watch for the next court summons!)
The trek was pretty interesting. There are 9 species in the park that have been rescued after being abandoned or confiscated. They have to go through a process of ‘dehumanization’ and learn to be monkeys again. My two favorite species were the golden squirrel monkeys who have been described as the piranha of the forest. They’ll anything and fear nothing. The other was the vervet monkeys. We used to own one called Sheba when we were kids.
“The monkey with the bluest balls is the most dominant monkey,” said Mr. Hamidi. “Indeed, they sit around and display their balls to one another. That one with the bluest and biggest is the one who will lead the troop.”
I looked around at the other people in our group. Was I the only one getting a kick out of this?
The tour continued with an arduous trek through the forest, made only more difficult by the stroller that I was pushing over tree roots, rock and muck. Why hadn’t I paid more attention on how to tie a baby to ones back?? It came to a slightly terrifying end with our group crossing a very shaky 120 meter-long suspension bridge (the longest in southern Africa by the way) that hovered over a 20 meter drop below.
We’d had our encounter with the wild and were satisfied; although I still can’t understand how anyone can justify charging anyone $50 to watch an elephant eat some grass and take a dump. That’s just un-American.