August 31st, 2011 by A.G.J.
Last month in South Africa, my family and I visited with some elephants at a rescue. We got to touch, feed, ride, and learn about them. Early on the trainer introduced an elephant named Medwa to seven of the guests. As the trainer told Medwa each guest’s first name, Medwa extended his trunk and took in that person’s scent.
Ninety minutes later, having returned from our wonderful ride (and not to digress but it must be shared that an elephant’s heart beats approximately 22 times per minute, while ours is more like 70 beats. As a result, riding an elephant is, in my experience, deeply soothing. Everything slows down. One friend describes elephants as “the Om walking”.) Anyway, when we returned from the ride, the trainer asked the seven people who’d met Medwa to please come and form a horizontal line. Then he brought Medwa over and placed a baseball cap in the dirt. He pulled out his list of seven names and instructed the elephant, Medwa, give the hat to Anna. Medwa curled his trunk around the cap and gently extended it to Anna. Then the trainer asked, Medwa, give the hat to Richard. And he did. Each time, no mistakes, Medwa gave the hat to whomever he was asked. I was blown away and realized – with absolute certainty – that a much cooler story than the one most of us are currently telling about animals wants to be told.
The trainer asked my son, Gates, how many commands our dog knew. She’s working on 3, Gates shared. The trainer asked how many Gates thought Medwa had learned. Shrugging and squinting, Gates says, I don’t know. 14? 15? The trainer shakes his head no. 80.