Thandora packs her trunk (and says goodbye to the zoo)


I came across this heart warming story that seems to be straight from a children’s storybook. I can just see it, ‘Thandora gets a new home’. But it’s actually a real life, true story and it’s lovely. Gondwana Game Reserve on the Garden Route is embarking on a project with the Bloemfontein Zoo and Conservation Global to relocate Thandora, a 27-year-old-elephant, from captivity to the wild.

Thandora has been in captivity for 23 years. Recently her elephant companion at the Bloemfontein Zoo died and it was decided she needs a more suitable home where she could be part of a herd. Gondwana Game Reserve has a herd and an environment that suits Thandora’s needs and it has the facilities to support her transition.

The biggest challenge is preparing her for her new free-roaming life. Because of her captive environment, she has low muscle tone and is unfit, which could be life threatening if she’s released directly onto the 11 000 hectare reserve. She’ll embark on a rehabilitation program including diet and exercise. Thandora’s diet will change and she’ll participate in a fitness program where she’ll be walked daily, building up to a target of 10 kilometres a day.

The last time I was at a game reserve, I very nearly didn’t make it back. And this story involves an elephant (in the distance) too. And I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life! Let me start at the beginning of this dramatic tale by setting the scene.

After spending a somnambulant and comparatively uneventful day dozing in the African heat, the slow, hypnotic buzz of insects lulling us gently to sleep, we decided to pack a cooler box and find a quiet spot to watch the sun as She sank slowly to sleep and turned out her reading light. To many a person this may seem like a simple enough task – packing a cooler box – but when it comes to The Family, nothing at all is ever simple. Absolutely everything, from going out to dinner to taking a walk down to the beach, must be made into a project of gargantuan proportions.

Everyone wanted something different to drink. And there had to be options in case we got bored with one type of drink. And there had to be chips, in case we got hungry. We had to take blankets in case it got cold (in December, in the southern hemisphere). And then there was the usual night-time game drive paraphernalia: game-viewing torches; insect repellent; Brad’s Kindle (in case he got bored); Darren’s raptor guide (in case he saw a raptor and couldn’t identify it – as if); my ever-present bottle of water (in case I got thirsty and didn’t want to drink what was in the cooler box); and my calm, un-beleaguered Mister.

LandyWe dragged the entire contents of the bungalow to the Land Drover and proceeded to… chat about who would sit where. Brad said he didn’t mind where he sat; as did Darren; as did Erica; Clinton; and my Mister. I minded where I sat so I gathered up my suitcase of belongings and climbed in to ‘my’ seat directly behind the passenger seat of the Land Drover and my settling in ensued. This position has great strategic implications for me and my ability to be alive. I fear dying by elephant and I have done a quasi-scientific risk analysis of all the potential seats in the vehicle and found this to offer the greatest amount of potential protection. Of course there really is no protection (potential or otherwise) in an open-topped game viewing vehicle when you find yourself in the middle of a breeding herd of elephants who want to murder you painfully because they think you’re trying to steal their leaves. Or children.

So there we were fifteen minutes later, everyone bored with standing and discussing where they would sit and having retreated back into the yard to sit down and discuss Erica and Clint’s upcoming nuptials. Without diminishing the importance of the wedding, I would like to point out that this is a story about a night drive and would like to suggest that we skip a head a few decades of chatter and begin the story from where we encountered the Enormous Unidentified Flesh-eating Brain-sucking Demon of Death.

We had driven around a little, spotted some (lovely) really rather peaceful impala and some beautiful (being off in the distance) and majestic elephants, and were now all standing up on our benches with our right hands reaching for the heavens as we tried in vain to scoop up some cell phone signal particles (at least that’s how I think they work). Out of the darkness and from Brad’s gaping maw came a high-pitched scream. His cellphone clattered helplessly to the floor while we watched in perplexed amusement as Brad tore off his clothes like a man on fire. Brad was down to his Polo briefs before he could explain what had so excited him and moved him to show his friends his undies.

Brad had his pants around his ankles and was boogying like he was deranged. Behind me were the fallen bodies of my comrades – they had abandoned all attempts to stay upright as they too prayed for an end to the agonising hysteria of out-of-control laughter. Sundowners lay discarded and dismembered on the Land Rover floor as finally, finally, we managed to calm ourselves down. What began as a peaceful evening game drive had turned into full blown war-time pandemonium. Praying Mantis

And there we were. Brad’s friends doubled (and sometimes tripled) over in laughter as he fought bravely to find this beast that threatened his very survival. It took a little while, but eventually he found the praying mantis. On the seat. Beside his shorts and t-shirt.

If you’d like a visit to a game reserve (you may even see a praying mantis) and would also like to see Thandora at her new home, visit Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay. For all reservation enquiries contact Gondwana Game Reserve on or call them on 021 424 5430.

2 thoughts on “Thandora packs her trunk (and says goodbye to the zoo)

  1. Alison

    I heard about the elephant being relocated on the radio. Love the idea of an exercise programme for her so that she’ll cope! Love the rest of your story.


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