Elephants Alive

by Michele Thomson November 18, 2017

I've been sitting on this blog post since this summer,  but with the recent news that Trump is thinking about lifting the ban of the import of elephant trophies to the US again, I felt it was time to get out of my introvert shell and share.

My love for elephants and the other animals that we help support through Ferocious Love and friends like you give me the courage to do a lot of things that I'm afraid to do. xo

May 2017, South Africa. A sweet little vacation with my husband Paul.

Baby elephants plopped down for a nap at their mothers’ feet. Adolescents chased, tussled and played within the large family group. We were surrounded by waves of elephants in every direction. I was in absolute heaven.

Paul, and I experienced this amazing moment during a drive with Elephants Alive researchers Jessica Willmot and Tammy Eggeling. It was rare treat and a privilege to be invited to tag along with them to track down two of the collared elephants in their study group.

Jessica and Tammy picked us up at the lodge and drove us into Timbavati Reserve in search of two of their collared elephants, Umbabat and a Matambu. With the aid of radio telemetry and high tech software Jessica was able to spot the female, Umbabat quickly along with her beautiful extended family.

Sitting in awe in the jeep, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that this is Jessica and Tammy's job. They get to hang out with these beautiful animals and witness amazing wildlife moments that most of us only dream of. Although it does sound dreamy, these two ladies - alongside countless other conservationists - make a lot of sacrifices to do this work and they are faced with many challenges out in the bush.

Can you hear me now? Jessica using radio telemetry to locate Umbabat.

Jessica Willmot searching for collared elephants.

I wondered if Elephants Alive chose matriarchs in a group and Jessica explained that the team carefully chooses to collar elephants in lower rank so that they can follow them for many years over the course of the elephant's life.

Tammy photographed the elephants within the Umbabat’s group so that they can identify each one by their sex, tusks and ears patterns. Paul and I learned that elephant ears are a great way to tell who’s who by observing the size and shape and noting any notches, tears, or holes. Jessica pulled out a thick binder and flipped through pages and pages of recorded elephants until she located Umbabat. I loved these pages. To me, each identification record was like a piece of art and an intimate page from an elephant’s diary.


Matambu's page of Elephant Alive's physical log they keep in the jeep.

Years of research and monitoring have gone into the database, which helps the team monitor what’s going on in lives of the collared elephant and their families. They record movements of the herds, collect data about surrounding habitat and also report any issues of potential elephant-human conflict.

Soon after we said goodbye to beautiful Umbabat and her family, we spotted Matambu. He is an impressive bull, a bit of a loner and almost completely blind because of degenerative eye disease. What’s fascinating about Matambu, is that he will roam great distances alone and seemingly unhindered by his deficient eyesight. This is just another reminder to me how amazing these animals are how little we understand about elephant super powers.

The big guy didn’t stick around very long and moved deeper into the bush without much goodbye trunk wave or farewell rumble. But it was a privilege to be in the company of this great giant no matter how brief.

The few hours that I spent with Jessica and Tammy were the highlight of my trip to South Africa. I loved learning more about the research that they do and I’m so grateful that I was able to enjoy this unique elephant experience.

Left to right: Tammy Eggeling, me and Jessica Willmot

Tammy Eggeling, me, and Jessica Willmot

This special outing was arranged by, Elephants Alive’s CEO and principal researcher, Michelle Henley. Michelle and my sister went to Pretoria University together and they’ve remained close over the years and across many miles.

Michelle and I reconnected a few years ago after I started Ferocious Love and this year we created a product together that gives $5 back to Elephants Alive.

The sweet organic cotton baby onesie sold on our website features a beautiful watercolor image of a baby elephant painted by Michelle’s mom, Catherine Greyling.

Visit Elephants Alive to learn more about the wonderful work that they do.

Ferociously yours,







Michele Thomson
Michele Thomson


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