Return Of The Giants

The inkhosi’s grandfather had told him, with a vague fondness, of a time when powerful ndhlovu (dindlovo) matriarchs ruled the valleys of Northern Kwa Zulu Natal.

The herds they nurtured generated a mystic respect amongst his people. Heinz Kohrs had a dream to once again see these majestic creatures sauntering their ancient pathways through this region. Heinz, a land owner in the Pongola nature reserve and the owner of the White Elephant Safari Lodge, came to the realization that, “from the moment man erected fences he placed upon himself the burden of managing the land and its wildlife”. The notion of having elephants reintroduced to the area was initially met with much opposition from other landowners, sugarcane farmers and the local communities that fall under tribal chiefs. Through persistent negotiations with these parties and others, such as spoornet whose rails run straight through the heart of the reserve, Heinz spread his ideas and fertilised this seemingly impossible fantasy. In 1997 his wishes were granted when his efforts had been approved by Kruger Park inspectors and local authorities and two herds totalling 17 elephants were scheduled for translocation to the Pongola game reserve. “Our sanctuaries are fenced islands…” Some quite creative ‘elephant artwork’ began to appear in the reserve once the creatures had settled in. Some trees were being delicately uprooted and replanted upside down whilst others told tales of having taken the full brunt of a frustrated bulls wrath. An excess of this type of behaviour and an incident in 1999, where two bulls broke through the fence and escaped, lead Heinz to believe that his herds had become claustrophobic and he simply needed to conjure up more space. In mid 2000 Heinz, his wife Debbie and honoury Kwa Zulu Natal Wildlife officer, Digs Pascoe founded the Space For Elephants Foundation. Through the foundation they aim to attempt to restore ancient elephant migratory routes by linking surrounding reserves through corridors of land. The scattered communities, who’s forefathers witnessed great herds of the original elephant families pass through the valley, are not only getting the opportunity to recover ancient mystic beliefs of the mighty ‘ndlovu’ but are gaining economically from the foundations achievements. ‘Discover yourself through the wisdom of elephants’

Mandy Young has, for the past few years, conducted deeply founded research into animal behaviour with particular focus on their social structures. Mandy has learnt much from the animals she has observed: from the wild dogs she has learnt about the importance of nurturing kinship bonds, so sadly neglected in our human attempts towards self-sufficiency; and from the elephants Mandy has learnt much about mothering - the cornerstone of both human and elephant societies! Elephants can communicate ultrasonically for up to 60kms² in the right weather conditions, and 2½ years ago a group of 'orphan' elephants walked into Pongola Game Reserve to be met by the dominant bull, Ngani! These elephants were orphaned as calves when their mothers and sisters were culled, consequently they have struggled to be good mothers themselves - less protective and emotionally involved with their offspring, as with human mothers who were abandoned or neglected as children. (Mandy has applied this research to her psychotherapy practice and has drawn up definite correlations between the functioning of an elephants family unit and the patterns that define the success and happiness of human families.

Amongst the elephants translocated from the Kruger National Park were four calves that were orphaned after their mothers were culled due to a lack of space. The orphans have grown to be badly behaved adolescents and one of the females has proved to be a disastrous mother.) Mandy uses this example to illustrate the parental similarities we share with elephants and to emphasise the importance of a nurturing upbringing. The luxurious ‘White Elephant Safari Lodge’ situated in the Pongola reserve is the base from which Mandy is developing a program for her eco-therapy workshops. Individuals, such as one of the big bulls, ‘imphi’, provide those taking part in the workshop with a string of dramatical movements and expressions, natural to him yet simply fascinating to us. Elephants aside, those taking part in the workshop are introduced to nature from undiscovered angles and perspectives. One is opened up to intricate details of the animal world, such as fascinating ant survival techniques, and shown how to apply these to ones life. You may also be shown how we can all be compared with the humble dung beetle who has an ever increasing amount of sh*t to deal with!!

The final day of the workshop is a full day excursion into the Lebombo mountains. Digs Pascoe is an expert on the region and guides you through the rural villages explaining the ways of the Zulu people and delving into ancient spiritual beliefs. Digs is active in the preservation of these cultures in the area and opens ones eyes to some extraordinary historical facts. The elephants, the area, and a bird’s eye view of ones place amongst the elements form the basis of Mandy’s quest to heal through self-discovery and recognizing our interconnectedness with each other and the world we share with other plant and animal species.