Shaun, Nilay and I ended up staying two nights at Elephant Sands, about 30 kilometers north of Nata. It is a brilliant concept.
The owners of the lodge own 16,000 hectares of land out in the middle of nowhere (nowhere for us humans – home for hundreds of elephants). They built a lodging operation around a watering hole on their property.
My “chalet” was a nice, sturdy structure with a semi-outdoor bathroom facility.
The open-air bathroom in my chalet
But they enhanced the watering hole by creating a concrete in-ground trough that’s about 15 x 1 feet in measurements. The trough had fresh water continuously running through it, thus attracting a lot of elephants for the water’s purity.
Because the property is in such an arid area, the owners truck in 5,000 gallons of water every day for the guests and elephants. The “ellies” come from miles around to enjoy the fresh, clean water.
The main building of the camp has a viewing deck that comes to about 25 feet of the watering trough, allowing close access to the elephants as they drink and socialize. Sometimes, they will even approach the deck to do some human viewing.
Elephants are fascinating creatures, especially when it comes to water. They can smell water up to 30 kilometers (19 miles) away. Last year during a drought, when Elephant Sands ran out of water in the water trough, the elephants, in their desperate search for water, dug up water pipes four meters (12 feet) deep to get to the water in the pipes. They also tore down one of the bathroom structures to get at the water in the pipes.
Now Elephant Sands has to turn off the water to all the chalets and tent cabins at night so the elephants can’t smell the underground water.
They are also quite humorous in their creative ways of drinking. One regular I spoke with said one day he was taking a shower in his cabin’s semi-outdoor shower when the water all of a sudden stopped. He was standing there, his head full of shampoo wondering what happened when he looked up and saw an elephant’s trunk, which had snaked its way under the roof and was drinking the water from the shower head.
The owner, Mike, had an incredible experience with one of the elephants, which they’ve named Bennie. Bennie is a very large male who is approximately 25 years old. One day, he approached Mike as he was standing in the viewing deck and lifted his right foot. Using his trunk, Bennie began pointing at a large gaping wound on his leg, just above his toenails. Mike and a couple of witnesses all swear it’s true.
Mike brought Bennie over to stand on the viewing deck so he could wash off the wound with a garden hose. Upon closer inspection, the wound was in desperate need of a veterinarian. Mike led Bennie back out into the open watering hole space and proceeded to make arrangements with a vet to take care of the wound.
A couple days later, Bennie was tranquillized and the wound addressed. A lot of rotten flesh had to be removed and the wound was then packed with antibiotics. Bennie began to come out of his groggy state, and while most elephants will wake up angry, confused and agitated, Bennie stood up very calmly, looked at the humans from afar and calmly walked away.
Bennie is now a regular at Elephant Sands, but he gets special treatment. He will approach the dining area to the side of the viewing deck and Mike will rush to get the garden hose out.
Bennie then gets as much water as he wants, poured directly into his trunk. Other ellies will try to approach Mike & Bennie for similar treatment, but they are scared off. Mike has developed a very close bond with Bennie.
Apologies for the poor quality of the photo – it was dark
One last humorous story – there are four “naughty” elephants who have been known to pass by one of the tent cabins at night as they leave the watering hole. If the cabin occupants have left their window unscreened for the night, one of the elephants will reach into the window and quickly remove the closest bed’s blanket and throw it in the ground as they pass. Imagine the occupant’s shock!