Nura meets the elephants
Spending time with elephants was a profoundly calming experience for this special needs child.
Since our therapy programme with the dolphins earlier last year we have been keen to explore other animal interactions and see how Nura responds. So late last year we visited the Knysna Elephant Park. We were blown away by the majestic gentle giants. The park is very disabled friendly and all the staff, especially the guides, are very professional and attentive. We were stunned at the size of the ellies and the ease with which they move. At no time did I feel fear or concern for our safety.

Typical children, even at a very young age, have a sense of fear, and they have to be reassured before they feel comfortable to touch or go near the ellies. Others have no fear and go towards the ellies without hesitation.

Nura, of course, does not comprehend fear so her experience was sublime. She laughed, smiled, and was completely relaxed and comfortable surrounded by ellies. We spent 3 hours at the park and Nura was calm the whole time. Elephants are said to have a key sense or energy so they sense things we cannot.

Protected by the elephants

The younger elephants seemed to gravitate towards Nura and hovered by her pram the whole time. They seemed protective of her and the space around her, sensing she needed special care. Keisha (7 years old), one of the younger ellies, stayed by her side no matter where we moved her. After this experience we were invited to spend a night at the park in order to get more private time with the ellies and for them to see what response she would evoke in the ellies.

So in February we spent a night at the park. We watched the babies have their milk feed before bedtime while the older ellies snacked on some leaves and branches. Again Nura was at ease and had such a good sleep she didn’t want to wake up in the morning. We walked with the ellies at 7.30am as they went out into the field and then got the amazing opportunity to ride on the elephants.

Nura and I rode Harry – 21 years old, the biggest ellie in the park, standing 3,5 meters tall and weighing 6 tons. It is difficult to describe the experience as everything is so sensory and trying to put this into words is difficult. Nura enjoyed the movement, which tests her balance and strengthens her posture and forces more head control.

The ellies touched Nura with their trunks at various times on our visits. For elephants touch is a very important way of communicating feelings - to reassure a frightened member of the family, other elephants stand close. So their protective behaviour towards Nura was their way of reassuring her and making her feel safe.  And she definitely appeared to feel their calmness and strength. We have made friends for life.

Read more about the Knysna Elephant Park’s gentle giants.

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