We begin with an interview with Daisy's coach, Dopjie Van Heerden.
EleZine: Dopjie, is this true? An elephant from Botswana has entered to swim in the Rio Olympics?
DVH: Yes, it's true, it's been an amazing journey, and we are not even a quarter of the way.
EleZine: Can you tell us how on Earth such a got thing started?
|Kruger elephants crossing the road. |
"Put it this way in a dispute between a
car and an elephant, always bet on the
elephant"-Dopjie Van Heerden
At Kruger we had been having some trouble with elephants interfering with tourists in their cars, so I went to learn from the experts, African elephant handlers in Botswana.
EleZine: And that's where you met Daisy?
EleZine: Can you tell us about how you learned about her swimming ability?
DVH: Certainly. It's a longish story, but I'll do my best. I joined a group of Elephant handlers and their elephants in the south of Botswana and worked and learned from them for a three month period. The lead handler was Simba and M'Dahzee was the leader of the elephant troupe. Most days I rode with Simba on M'Dahzee's shoulders.
M'Dahzee was anglicized to "Daisy", which is what I called her as I had trouble getting my tongue around the dialectic name.
Eventually the time came for me to go back to South Africa and this is when the trouble started.
The rainy season came early and fell heavy from the start.
Simba radioed through to the capital and we learned that the Okavango had risen sharply and the roads and rail were already cut.
It looked like we would have to be evacuated with helicopters, but Simba and the other handlers didn't want to leave their elephants.
|The Okavango River.|
"I only wished it was this calm the day
Daisy lead her team across"-
Dopjie Van Heerden
Then he came back and said, "We're going to swim out".
I was immediately swamped with feelings of disbelief and terror.
"SWIM THE OKAVANGO".
Crocs, hippos, floating trees, rushing current, snakes, freezing water, I couldn't believe it.
Then (and this is gospel true as well) Simba said, "Daisy is confident".
Well, I'd seen him with her for the past three months and knew they had an almost supernatural bond, but even so, I was panicking.
EleZine: Gosh, you must have been in some fear?
DVH: I sure was. I'd heard of rapid, involuntary evacuation of the bowel, and I nearly suffered it then and there.
So we packed up, got on our elephants and set off, we had to walk about twenty k, through driving rain, to even reach the bank of the mighty watercourse.
I might add already the river and the land had merged into one enormous horizon spanning waterscape.
We plodded on.
Eventually I felt Daisy's feet leave the ground and we were swimming the Okavango.
Simba gently tugged on Daisy's left ear to keep her swimming diagonally upstream against the current so we wouldn't be swept downstream.
Trees rushed by, the water swirled and boiled.
I was terrified.
Occasionally Daisy would raise her head and trumpet, which Simba said was her call to the rest of the elephants to keep them together.
Then, and forget Beethoven's fifth symphony, I heard the sweetest sound in the history of humanity, the pad of an elephant's foot on ground.
We had reached the other side.
I have no real recollection of the crossing as I was shivering with cold and fear, but it certainly took some hours, three maybe, perhaps four.
|A sweet sight, the railway station|
at Kimbala was still open.
(this picture taken during the dry season)
We reached a town called Kimbala and this was significant as it turned out to be the only dry place in nearly a thousand square kilometres of South-western Botswana.
I sadly bid a hurried goodbye to Daisy, Simba and the team.
Hurried because I had to get on the last train out for the capital.
EleZine: That is already a remarkable story Dopjie, but where did the Olympic part come in?
DVH: Well, when I got home I was so thankful to be alive that I was determined to do something for Daisy and Simba to mark her incredible swim.
As it happened I watched the movie 'Babe' with my kids soon after.
They love that film and we have seen it at least twenty times, it got to the point where the farmer enters Babe in the sheepdog trial and he is happy because the entry form does not say "Name of Dog", but instead "Name of Entrant", so he, the farmer, doesn't have to lie.
Then it hit me.
There was no better swimmer in southern Africa than Daisy, what better way to commemorate her mighty swim than by entering her in the Olympics?
EleZine: So you did?
DVH: Yes, it was really only a lark, I just wanted something on paper to send to Simba as a momento, but as I now know, nowhere in the Olympic charter does it say that you have to be a human being to enter.
EleZine: Readers you can confirm this for yourself at http://registration.olympic.org/en/faq Though we don't want to start a flood of entries from kangaroos in the high jump and so forth.
DVH (Continues): So I entered Daisy, I remembered that Simba's surname was Umtali, so I entered her as M'Dahzee Umtali.
This is a screenshot of the fateful form!
DVH (continues): As I said, it was all a bit of a lark, but then to my considerable surprise, the Olympic folks at Sports Botswana accepted it and I got an email back with instructions for team meetings, training schedules and so forth.
I sent a copy to Simba in Botswana and when he stopped laughing he asked me for some money to frame it, which I happily sent and we all went back to work.
EleZine: That is truly remarkable, Dopjie. Is that where the story ends.
DVH: Not at all, after a few weeks Simba got through to me by radio-telephone and reported that he had shown the form to Daisy and told her what it means, and (his words, not mine) that Daisy wanted to go to Rio and swim.
Elezine: Dopjie has agreed to keep us posted on Daisy's progress. Next post "Daisy Starts her training".