Summer 2021 Update

It is hard to believe that Labor Day has come and gone! Scott and I have spent much time this summer at Elephant Havens in the happy company of the Botswana team and a very rambunctious herd of young elephants. Many of you have visited us in Africa this summer and the elephants have enjoyed your visits as much as we have. I bet that bottle-feeding a baby elephant is high on the list of best experiences while traveling. And there has been lots of singing and dancing, too. One of the things I love about being at EH is that everyone sings and dances like no one is watching! Trust me, it is a wonderful release.

I am happy to report that our ele’s and team are healthy, happy and thriving. MmaMotse continues to be a sweet loving matriarch who cares for all the younger elephants. Her instincts and leadership as a 3+ year-old elephant thrust into this role are just so remarkable. All the orphans dote on Sandy, who is the youngest, and he secretly controls the herd. He lets out a little scream if he wants the branch MmaMotse is eating, and she lovingly hands it over. We have so much fun watching the interactions among the herd and the developing personalities of the babies.

As I observe these wonders of nature, I am reminded of some observations from Dereck Joubert, a noted filmmaker and observer of the African elephant. He recently wrote that elephants have immense respect for each other, for other animals and for us, and they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conflict. They have intelligence. They can sense water ten meters under the sand and think in the past, the present and the future. They often set the course of their movement by allowing—usually days ahead—for the weather, storms or water. And they pay respects to their dead. They are sentient beings, sensitive and unthreatening. They share almost all of their characteristics with humans—empathy, trust, dignity, altruism—except one: the ability to be cruel.

I have witnessed all of these things and am grateful that because of you we have the opportunity to make a difference and see these wonderful animals to adulthood.

I know I have shared this with many of you in the past, but working in Africa is a slow, slow process. Thank goodness for Bee, who is patient and tenacious. The tenacious part I’ve got down, but I have to admit that patience is a virtue that I struggle with. That being said, we are waiting on permission to fence the large land that was gifted to us by the local community. One of our young visitors this summer made a persuasive (and successful!) presentation to her family to provide a grant to help us install our solar-electric fence for the entire property. At nearly 900 acres in the wild, this is a formidable undertaking. This will be the area where our ele’s will live while learning to be independent before being totally released into the wild. We are so excited to be able to complete this part of our project and we hope we can start the fencing next month.

Thanks to your donations, we have been able to do so much. The staff village is undergoing expansion for more housing and utility upgrades. We have procured a new school bus driver on staff, thus keeping the elephant experts with the young elephants rather than the young Batswana children. School may restart soon once the teachers can be vaccinated and we will be re-installing the canvas classrooms we provided until the most recent shutdown. The school uniforms and shoes are boxed and await delivery to up to 150 kids once school starts anew. The “parking lot” area at EH, such as it is, is off-limits to the elephants; it’s one of the few areas that they are not permitted to roam. This presents an opportunity to do a little landscaping and to cultivate a garden. The elephant handlers, all veterans of the bush and bush farming, are developing a nice plot and a beautiful landscape in this elephant-free zone.

We also have another opportunity that I hope comes to fruition. There is a beautiful piece of land, adjacent to the orphanage proper, that we would love to acquire. This land is directly on the river. It is heavily wooded in large part, delta wetland in another part and beautiful acacia dry woodland in the rest. We know it is a great habitat based upon the numbers of wild bull elephants that pass through there weekly, enjoying its abundant resources. It would provide a perfect grazing and browsing area for our growing herd (both in numbers and in girth). It is hard to believe how hard elephants can be on the landscape and this land could give our current land a chance to rest and recover. It will also take additional land back to more natural use. We hope we can get approval and the funds to make this dream a reality. This (with two other extensions we already have nearly processed and are temporarily fenced) will more than double the size of the orphanage land area.

Finally, we have designed and priced a new canvas building that we would like to locate near our front gate for the dung paper crafts ladies. We believe it would be beneficial for their new business to be in a location where visitors to Elephant Havens could actually watch them create the paper. These women work hard every day, and we want to help in any way possible to make their business a success.

Every day we think of ways to make a difference and continue the success of Elephant Havens. The new land and the crafts building are only a few! I will save more of our wish list for later! (Hint: goats!)

Thank you all for your continued support. Scott and I and the entire team at EH are honored to have your trust. Together we are making a difference and have changed so many lives, not just the 4-legged but the 2-legged as well.

With much gratitude,
Debra and Scott


  • Mathilda December 19, 2021 5:20 am

    Good day, i would love to do some volunteer work. My husband is terminally ill and i have cared for him for about 6 months. I din’t know how i’m going to cope with his death. Every day i feel as if my life line is slowly pulled out my body. I would love to come help with caring for the elephants. I don’t mind getting dirty and am a hard worker. Would love to find som pease and strength in between the elephants. Specially reading the above.

    • Debra Stevens April 5, 2022 5:11 pm

      Hi Mathilda,

      I am so sorry for this late reply. I did not see this message. I am so sorry about your husband. I can’t imagine how hard that would be. Our orphanage is in Maun Botswana. We can not allow volunteers. Although very kind and gently our elephants are still heavy! We have a trained experience team that cares for them daily around the clock. Thank you for caring and I hope you have found some peace.

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