The Story of Tswale and Amos – A Volunteer’s Perspective

It is going to be a challenge to put into words the experience I had visiting Tswale and Amos, but I will do my very best. First let me introduce you. Tswale is a rescue elephant, now aged 30, and his best friend Amos is a lovely human being from Zimbabwe. They share a bond of strength and togetherness I have not witnessed before, however I hope to see again.

I was given an opportunity by Nicky, the owner of a monkey rehabilitation center, to take a trip and visit a rescued elephant at Lowhills Safari. Being an animal behaviour and welfare graduate, good treatment of animals is a primary concern of mine and is something I am very passionate about. There are many companies across the world that claim to be elephant rescue and rehabilitation centers, who promote ‘elephant experiences’ to generate income. Sadly, a number of these companies will use the method of breaking an elephant to submission. This includes beating them to make them perform tricks and having people ride the elephants for “pleasure”. Whilst it isn’t always the case, it is devastatingly common for elephant welfare to be the lowest priority. For these reasons, I was sceptical about visiting Tswale. After meeting Nicky and getting to know her, I saw and felt a wonderful kindness and compassionate, warm personality. I witnessed these natural personality traits embrace her profession that promotes positive animal welfare. I trusted that this would not be a negative experience and one I could learn from.

I could not have been more amazed by what I saw and the story I was told. Tswale approached Lowhills Safari on his own accord, closely followed by his best friend Amos, a gentleman who has cared for Tswale for the past 18 years. Sonell welcomed them to stay at the safari, having known about the treatment they had both been subjected to previously. She promised Amos that no one would ever sit on Tswale again, and that he would never again be forced to get Tswale to perform tricks or have to watch Tswale be beaten. The incredible thing is that Amos has dedicated his life to caring for this elephant, walking alongside him wherever he wants to go and sleeping with him in the bush. Amos explained that he went two years without a salary during the coronavirus pandemic in order to continue caring for Tswale. He was worried that if he left the elephant, he could break through fences and get himself into trouble by wandering into areas that he was not welcome. The bond the pair had was like nothing I have ever seen before. It was truly incredible. Amos can instinctively tell exactly how Tswale is feeling, which he has learnt through years of elephant experience. For example, he told me that Tswale’s slightly droopy, closed eyes and gently flapping ears showed how relaxed he was. He was even resting one back leg across the other! Amos has taught Tswale to ‘talk’ using positive reinforcement. He explained that Tswale will only do something if he wants to do it, and emphasised the power of using food as reward, never punishing the elephant for anything. Tswale is completely free to roam where he likes and do what he likes, with Amos never too far away. As I sit writing this, I think about Amos out there in the bush, optionally giving up his life to ensure the safety and happiness of this beautiful animal. It was emotional to see how gentle of a man Amos is, he really is an inspiration – I was sure to tell him this. When I said that I imagined he had no regrets, he replied with ‘no, not a single one’ and had the biggest smile on his face.

Sonell and Amos are currently working out a plan together, which would enable people to safely come and visit Tswale and hear the story they have, creating some funds to help care for both Tswale and Amos. As Sonell told me in a very reassuring way, they will always come as a pair! Sonell, a very kind and giving lady who I feel truly lucky to have met, has received a barrage of verbal abuse since acquiring Tswale. This mainly comes from people who have not visited the safari and seen the happiness of the elephant for themselves. People like me creating negative assumptions of what might be happening when in fact, my observations have proven quite the contrary – and this isn’t a show – it’s a real testament of love and strength between man and animal. I would like to inform anybody who is interested in visiting Tswale, or anybody who is sceptical about the elephant experience, that it is quite possibly the greatest act of animal kindness I have ever witnessed. Learning about animal welfare in university can be hard at times, as it opens your eyes to many of the cruel things that happen to animals across the world who do not have a voice. I can say from the bottom of my heart that this is not one of those cases, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you to Nicky, Sonell and Amos for the unforgettable opportunity.

                                                                                R650.00 – 45 Euro per person

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