Category: Africa

Give Us a Squeeze Lovey

An Amazing Day with Peanut’s Group

Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center, Rwanda, Africa

Hagenia trees seem almost life like with their many twists and turns.

Hagenia trees seem almost life like with their many twists and turns.

Journal Entry August 9, 1985

Wayne, David and I hiked into Zaire today in search of Peanut’s Group. The Zairean border is only a 15-minute walk from Karisoke. No passport required, we simply jumped over a small stream.

The terrain is surreal. We passed through wide emerald meadows flanked by huge hagenia trees. Whispy vegetation hangs from the horizontal branches like gauzy sleeves swaying in a breeze. It almost feels like we’re on another planet. I can understand why Dian hates leaving here even for a couple of days.

Wayne really didn’t want to take both of us along with him. He was cautioned by another researcher against approaching Peanut’s Group with more than one other person. There’s still a good deal of unrest among the 6 male members over the two females acquired from Nunkie’s Group after he died recently.

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Mary the Elephant

What are the Odds?

Circa 1984, Kenya

Dee Steel and her family were our Discovery Beach House guests in 2013. Her son Simon called after he read about our volunteer work with the great apes on our web site.

I think you may have something in common with my mother,” Simon said. “She used to work with elephants in Kenya.”

“We only knew one elephant in Kenya and that was 30 years ago. She was an orphan at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club Animal Orphanage. Her name was Mary.”

Simon was quiet for a moment, “I think my mother knew Mary.”

An Elephant, A Giraffe and an Ostrich

We’d told Mary’s story many times over the years. After her mother was killed Mary was taken to the animal orphanage  and nursed back to health by one of the owners, Iris Hunt, . Mary soon made friends with a baby giraffe and a young ostrich at the orphanage. The giraffe and the ostrich would plaster themselves on either side of Mary and the three of them would promenade around the compound together. Giraffes and ostriches mature much sooner than elephants and Mary’s friends eventually returned to the wild.

Mary with William the giraffe. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy

Mary with William the giraffe. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy

But they never forgot Mary. Once a year, on a schedule known only to them, the giraffe and the ostrich would return to the orphanage to visit Mary. They would plaster themselves on either side of her and promenade around the compound for hours until the call of the wild beckoned them back to places Mary could only dream of.

Mary made an unforgettable impression when we met her in 1983. She coiled her trunk around my forearm several times in an endearing way. She had a cold, so my arm slipped easily from her grip when I pulled it away. It was then I realized I’d been slimed with a forearm full of baby elephant snot, lol! Other than it being hilarious and gross at the same time – it felt like a blessing at the time. I still feel blessed by the experience, now that I think about it.

A Happy Ending

Fast forward 30 years later to the living room of our vacation home in Costa Rica. The Steel family invited us over for a visit soon after they arrived. It turned out Dee had known Mary. “She was adopted by an elephant named Eleanor. Here, this is for you,” Dee said handing us a photo. “Mary returned to the wild with Eleanor.”

Mary the Elephant

Mary the Elephant with her adopted mother, Eleanor. Photo courtesy of Dee Steel

We held the photo as if it were a precious emerald. My husband David and I were thrilled with the happy ending to Mary’s story. What are the odds that a British family would travel to Costa Rica, stay in our vacation rental home and we would have an elephant friend in common from 30 years ago? We will always treasure your gift, Dee Steel. Thank you.

Tsavo National Park. Mary's forever home.

Tsavo National Park. Mary’s forever home.


Eye to Eye with a Mountain Gorilla

How it Changed Me Forever

Rwanda, Africa – August 1985

Evelyn with a Mountain gorilla

Unfortunately my moment with Pablo was not caught on camera but David was there to video when it happened again with Jozi.
Photo Credit: David Root

Pablo leaned forward on his knuckles until his face was an inch from mine. His warm breath smelled of freshly mown grass. “Never breathe on a gorilla,” Dr. Dian Fossey had warned. “They have no immunity to human diseases.” I took a deep breath and held it.

But how did a girl from East Los Angeles end up eye-to-eye with a mountain gorilla? It began in childhood at the Saturday Matinee Double Feature. I always sat in the middle of the front row because it made me feel like I was in the movie. I remember sobbing when King Kong fell from the Empire State building. I imagined myself taking him back to Africa where he belonged. Later, a trip to the zoo had me fantasizing about hiding in the bushes until after dark and releasing all the gorillas from their cages.

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