The Presidential Elephants are around 450 elephants mainly roaming in Hwange Estate which is a protected area in the east of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.
These special elephants had been officially protected by President Mugabe in 1990. They should never be hunted or poached. Since then, they had been called the Presidential Elephants, and the project set up for their protection was called the"Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe Project".
Due to the special protection that these elephants have experienced many years, they are much calmer and more relaxed in the presence of humans than other elephants.
Starting in 1999, Sharon Pincott, a committed Australian, took over the mentoring and research of the Presidential Elephants , on a voluntary and self-financed basis.
Her work for the elephants included many different things, e.g. arrange for pumps at water holes and care for animals that were unlucky enough to get caught in snare wires.
I got curious about this project and visited Sharon Pincott and her project in October 2013.
With this luxury bus it is easy to travel from Victoria Falls to Hwange on surprisingly good roads. Having arrived in the Hwange area, there was a promising traffic sign.
I was staying in Miombo Lodge, the same simple, friendly lodge in the property of which Sharon was living in a small house, too. I myself was staying in the hut shown on the left photo below.
Together with Sharon I went to see the Presidential Elephants, and we succeeded in finding some of the families which were specially familiar with her.
Within those 450 elephants Sharon had recognized 17 families and had registered their degrees of kinship and their cases of births and deaths.
During the many, many hours which Sharon has been spending in the bush with the elephants, she won the trust of the Presidential Elephants. They reacted on her voice and came up to her car to greet her.
Some members of particularly intimate families even let her touch them, which is a very special and rare behaviour of wild elephants.
Elephant mothers even brought her babies with them close to the car and obviously were not afraid of any harm done to them. This also shows their unique relation to Sharon.
They were really very relaxed, wonderful animals. Thanks to Sharon's presence, they were also curious who I was and came up close to me, too.
I was travelling there during the dry season, in which one can find most animals at the water holes. In the Hwange area there are several man-made water holes which are used by elephants very often.
In the below pictures you can see the highly pregnant Wilma during her mud bath. You can see that she was pregnant by her full breasts , but also by her really big belly that she tore with a big effort out of the mud bath.
Elephants need their daily mud baths, and all the more during the dry season when the sun is hot and they can cool down comfortably in water and mud. Watching them, it is so obvious that mud bathing is not only a duty for them - they really enjoy it, specially the babies.
After the mud bath, dusting is next. Still watching them you can see that they enjoy that, too, very much. Even the grown-ups are playing around. Sometimes during dusk, when the elephants are full of wet mud, they almost seem to be dark blue.
One more special thing at my stay in Hwange Estate with Sharon was that we did not have to keep to the time limits that are usual in national parks which always close at a certain hour in the evening. For the first time I had the oppurtunity to stay with wild elephants also during dusk and darkness. It was very impressive, and I will never forget this experience.
End of 2013 in Hwange Estate a piece of land was occupied illegally by a woman with good relations to the government and who turned this land into a hunting ground. The land is the central area in which the Presidential Elephants usually roamed and included two important water holes - exactly those that I had visited.
Sharon mobilized all her relations to members of the government in Zimbabwe, but this illegal land grabbing has not been canceled until today.
Zimbabwe's government is extremely corrupt and only looks for its financial advantages. Therefore Sharon did not have a choice and had to resign. With a heavy heart she withdrew from this project in spring 2014. Elephants which are being hunted with the agreement of the government cannot be protected any more. Elephant family structures are disturbed and their behavioural patterns become unsettled.
It is particularly painful that now the vicitims are the same elephants that President Mugabe once personally vowed to protect and who had been reacting to human's presence in such a very relaxed way.
Nobody can be sure what has happened to the Presidential Elephants since then, but one can assume that at least some of them have been shot already, and that they finally have lost their trust in humans. One can only hope that they avoid this area in future instinctively, where they are now being hunted.
Once again, look at Wilma, heavily pregnant, and together with some of her offspring. What kind of future do they all have?
More information about the Presidential Elephants and Sharon Pincott in the following links.
I also recomment to read Sharon's interesting books which she wrote about her project and her experience in Zimbabwe.
Link to Sharon's website: www.sharonpincott.com
Link to the Facebook-page of the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe Project: HERE
Link to Sharon's Facebook-page: HERE