The Matriarch Adventure: Ten Women, Ten Days, Two Very Different Matriarchal Groups. When Catherine Edsell Set out to Lead an Expedition on the Trail of an All-Female Elephant Herd in Namibia, Little Could She Realise the Similarities the Groups Would Share

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The Matriarch Adventure: Ten Women, Ten Days, Two Very Different Matriarchal Groups. When Catherine Edsell Set out to Lead an Expedition on the Trail of an All-Female Elephant Herd in Namibia, Little Could She Realise the Similarities the Groups Would Share


The elephants surrounded us, moving closer and closer. Hendrick, our expert tracker, whispered to me: 'I'm just checking whether they're really eating or just pretending to eat.' A voice screamed in my head what do you mean pretending to eat? Is that bad?' They were literally two metres away now, and just as I leaned in to ask for clarification, Hendrick raised his arm pointing his index finger in the air - this was the signal not to move, not to make a sound, not to breathe.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The last time I had encountered these elephants, 15 years ago, they had charged! I had narrowly escaped being flattened in the stampede, saved by the fact that the matriarch, the eldest member and authority on decision making, had been towards the back of the herd. The younger females, clocking us in their path, had turned to check and see what she wanted to do. That split second saved my life, giving us the chance to start the engine, (which had stalled), and slam our Toyota Land Cruiser into reverse and out of their way.

They were really wild back then, rarely meeting humans in anything but a confrontational setting. But for years, Hendrick Munembone, and other rangers working alongside Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA), have endeavoured to create a positive relationship, not only within the herds of elephants in the region, but between the animals and the humans who have to live side by side with them.

As it turns out they really were eating - which meant they were calm and curious rather than nervous and potentially aggressive. 'They're in a good mood,' Hendrick whispered, putting me only slightly more at ease as they lumbered even closer towards the truck. Elisabeth, caught in the process of taking data, had a pencil between her teeth. Not daring to take it out, it remained there, being bitten down on hard.

This was Mama Africa Herd, and 'Deliwe' and her daughter 'Hanna' were so close now that we could see the sleep in the corner of their eyes, feel their rumbling calls under our skin. Just as it seemed as though Deliwe was about to relieve Elisabeth of the pencil with her inquisitive trunk, Hendrick clapped his hands in quick bursts and the mother and daughter retreated a little. Our collective exhalation was audible. It's great to go on adventures, even better to return to tell the tale.

We were not on safari, we were on patrol with EHRA to collect data, to record the locations of these herds, to check their wellbeing, making note of any injuries they may have suffered, and that they were all accounted for. Also to see if there were any pregnancies or additions to the herd. But this was not just about the wellbeing of the elephants, it was about the wellbeing of the participants, the women who had decided to join me and experience true wilderness, have intimate wildlife encounters, challenge themselves, support conservation efforts, trek through the desert, meet local women, relax, meditate and be coached.

I'd had the idea for 'The Matriarch Adventure' only a few months previously - an inkling to design an expedition for women had been there for a while, at the back of my mind, gaining momentum. One morning, in conversation with Viva, a friend and life coach, we talked of combining expeditions with coaching as a means to speed up the transformation process that expeditions naturally provide. I grabbed an old notebook out of the bookshelf to write down some thoughts and there, on the first page was something I had written seven years previously - it was the skeleton of an idea for 'a journey of a lifetime' that never materialised. But there, in black and white, were the words 'matriarchs', 'elephants', 'Namibia' and the letters 'EHRA'. It suddenly all fell into place. We could track desert elephants in one of my favourite places in the world, we could help EHRA with its work, and experience the beauty of the desert.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'Ten days, ten women in the Namibian wilderness, tracking desert elephants, (the most iconic matriarchs there are), having an adventure, dawn yoga under flame-red skies, group coaching round a camp fire, sleeping out under a myriad of stars, meeting with Namibian women and hearing their stories, and everything else that expedition life has to offer. …

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