The African Elephant — A Nation in Peril — Part Two

My Painting of Benny

My Painting of Benny

Enter “Benny,” one of the rescue elephants at Abu Camp. The camp is dedicated to rehabing elephants who have been in captivity, or rogue elephants who are being relocated, and returning them to the wild, and while they are in “rehab” they become part of the safari team. Benny was the oldest, biggest male on the team, over 40 and probably near six tons in weight, and had been at Abu several years when I met him. He had been brought from a zoo in America, where he had lived alone, on concrete for most of his life. He had become so neurotic he had sawed both his tusks off and caused neurological damage to one ear so that it was permanently folded forward.

When Benny first came to Abu his balance was so poor he had trouble walking on normal ground (not flat concrete), and he was scared to death to get in the water. And remember, elephants LOVE water! He was extra sensitive and the mahouts (the native handlers) took special care with him and extra precautions when he was ridden.

As luck would have it, yours truly was the one chosen to ride Benny on the first day in camp . . .

As Benny rose to his feet, after kneeling so he could be mounted, bearing me aloft to a towering height, I could sense his insecurities and delicate nature. I wanted badly to reach down and touch him on the neck, and send him a communique of understanding and gratitude, but realized that even a light touch like that from his rider might distract or confuse him. The mahout riding in front of me, on Benny’s neck, was being so focused and careful, I didn’t want to make the slightest misstep that could throw Benny off.  So . . . hands off!

The ride was amazing and, even though I rode many other elephants during our stay, my time spent on top of the world — Benny — never came close to being matched.

Later that evening, I was asked by the camp management to communicate with Benny to see if I could help determine what they could do to help soothe his touchy digestive system (he often colicked). The talk I had with him later shook my world and left me depressed for days (yes, I did empathically take on too much of Benny’s feelings). His sad journey through life, and the desperation and pain he had experienced, rolled through me as he conveyed all that had happened. And this past was indeed what kept him in such a delicate state.

Many animals do not wish to revisit their past when it has involved abuse, discomfort, neglect, abandonment, or the many other unpleasant or downright horrible things they often subjected to. But not Benny. He wanted to pour out his heart, and was glad there was someone to listen. So he filled me up with pain — my choice — and I can only hope that it may have helped him empty his soul of it.

Benny cemented my dedication to the elephants, and, when I came home I began painting them in earnest. I love to paint, especially animals, but when I paint elephants my heart feels wide open and I can feel the energy of my subjects. I can only pray that conditions in Africa, for this important species on our planet, are managed and controlled in such a way as to insure its continuance. I mean, can you imagine a world without elephants?

The best part of this story is that Benny was finally released back into the wild and lived at liberty in his natural habitat the final years of his life. He did eventually meet his match in a battle with a wild bull elephant, and all who knew him have mourned his death, but at least we know he died in a way more natural to his ken.

It is my hope and prayer that all African Elephants be allowed to live and die in this natural way, and that we do our part to keep the species alive and well on our planet.


If you are interested in helping the African Elephant, please check out Elephants for Africa, a non-profit research organization run by Kate Evans whom I met during my time spent at Abu Camp. All proceeds from the prints of my painting of Benny go to this organization so that this awesome and unique species will not disappear from our world.

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