Bella the baby elephant is in front of two sleeping rhinos. She wants to play, says the guide, as myself and other guests watch. We are at Thula Thula Game Reserve, a 4500 ha private game reserve, situated only 45 minutes from Richards Bay harbour and airport, and less than 2 hours drive from Durban.
This afternoon we are on a mission to learn more about the elephant, and possibly spot a leopard and other animals during our game drive. Bella, clearly pleased with herself, continues to play about, to the dismay of the rhinos. It's evident that they want her to leave, but her strong will to make friends persuades her to continue. Eventually she gives up and goes back to the herd of elephants at a water hole nearby.
Thula Thula is famous for their beautiful herd of elephants. The Elephant Whisperer, written by Lawrence Anthony, an acclaimed conservationist and an international best-selling author, was centered around the rescue of the Thula Thula elephants, and the special relationship he created with the herd. As we drive, the gentle giants come waltzing in front of us. It's a sight to behold. Just over half a dozen elephant walk towards our game vehicle. The three men behind me are terrified. They are afraid that they will strike at us, but their fears are calmed by our game driver. He tells us that the elephants have never shown signs of aggression towards visitors and are not a threat.
The herd of elephants are at the water hole, clearly showing off their massive physique. One of them, identified as the younger ones, sneakily splashes water on me as it tries to quench its thirst from the blazing heat. The almost two hour drive is fascinating. Most of the elephants are named. During the drive, we learn that elephants drink around 250 liters of water and consume around 200-300 kilograms of food a day. By the end of the game drive, I have new found appreciation for what the reserve is doing for the elephant and rhino population.
They opened the Fundimvelo Thula Thula Wildlife Rehabilitation centre in May this year. The centre is created in partnership with Thula Thula Game Reserve, Fundimvelo Community Conservation Trust and international animal welfare organisation Four Paws, for the purpose of rescue, care and protection of wildlife, conservation education and community involvement. When we visit, we see a cute little duiker, who the center has named Lucy. The South African Police found her captive, most likely to be sold as a pet or used as meat.
Thula Thula, with its centuries of cultural and wildlife heritage, takes pride in tracing back its origin to the private hunting grounds of King Shaka, founder of the Zulu Empire. The first historic meeting between Shaka and his father (Senzangakhona), which set the stage for the creation of the Zulu nation, took place at the Nseleni River at Thula Thula.