Who Knew That Elephants Know Sign Language?

One of the highlights of the Bilit Village Homestay was our encounter with Pygmy Elephants.   The first day in Bilit, we heard them bellowing during our river cruise.  We waited by a popular crossing spot for elephants, but didn’t see them.  Our guide and another guide made very loud elephant calls into the top of plastic water bottles, which they thought were hilarious but the Europeans in the other boat didn’t like so much.

On our last river cruise the next day, we heard them again.   It sounded as if they were getting closer, so Lim got out of the boat to  take a look.   He found them, but said that we  should move to a different spot to see them better.  When we got to the different spot, it was just us and one other group.  The other guide was at the top of the river bank (about 10-15 feet above us).  Lim said he would go up and take a look.  He asked Shawnee to give him her camera, so he could take a picture for her.  Being the genius she is, she said, “I don’t want a picture of something I haven’t seen” and refused.  This was great because it forced Lim to let us come up and look.

After Lim and the other guide checked it out, Lim motioned for us to climb up.  Because there were only two of us, we could climb up quick and Lim didn’t have to worry about herding a large group around.  The guides were very hesitant to let the guests out of the boat.

Shawnee climbed up first, and I was right behind her.  The guides had us stay on the river bank, but at a place where we could see over the top.  The guides stood on the ground above the bank.

When we got to the ridge, we saw three pygmy elephants about 15 yards away.  One of them was a baby and it was surrounded by the other two for protection.  It was amazing.  Seeing the animals in nature as opposed to the zoo was a totally different experience (for the other animals as well).  They don’t manically pace around, like some animals in the zoo do.


The mother elephant was putting mud on its back with its trunk to cool off. She started to move toward us, but then the guides extended one hand straight ahead like a traffic cop.  The elephants stopped immediately.

We stood there for at least 5 minutes watching the elephants.  Shawnee got some great video of them on her camera, but mainly we just stood and watched.

Sahran decided that he wanted to come up and take a look.  While the guests carefully walked up the bank, he just climbed straight up.  Then he went to climb over the ridge, but needed some help because his path was blocked by tourists.  So as he tried to climb up, I grabbed him by his armpits and hoisted him up.  When he got to the top, he dusted himself off and then reached his hand down to pull me up.  I grabbed on and shot up to the top.  At this point, I was the only non-guide standing above the river bank.  It was amazing because I felt so close and exposed to the elephants.  Shawnee joined me up there in a couple of minutes.

As we returned to the boat, we were all buzzing about what we saw.  Then it was high-fives all around and back to the homestay for another delicious meal.


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