An Elephant’s Whisper (2005)

An Elephant’s Whisper
Written By Emile Shreve / Odyssey Magazine
June / July 2005


I have a friend called Elke Riesterer, now dubbed the ‘Elephant Whisperer’ by a Durban newspaper. We met by chance in 1994 when her B&B had overbooked and I was approached to put her up for a few nights. When I inquired she told me she was a body therapist; she humbly did not mention that she massages huge bodies – mainly elephants. We formed a connection and so began a warm and fascinating correspondence as she TTouched her way through South Africa, Zimbabwe (at one point we found ourselves surrounded by almost 100 Elephants, this was heaven), Namibia, Kenya (watched elephants mating), Mombassa, Tanzania, Thailand and India, of which she reports: ‘During my stay in New Delhi my heart went out to this bull elephant — my first elephant “client” in India – with his poor physical and emotional health. I was moved by his quick surrender and sweet response to my therapy. Bulls easily get agitated.’

In between her travels she volunteers at the Oakland Zoo which has African elephants. She also works with the 100-year-old Aldabra tortoises. It’s a 1 1/2 hour drive from her home in Santa Cruz.

‘Animals are like people; painful memories and trauma remain in the cells, tissue and muscles of their bodies. The TTouch releases fear and tension.‘

Elke spent many hours attending to an African elephant, Donna, that was critically ill with salmonella, using the TTouch technique. Happily Donna survived.

The Tellington Touch is a therapeutic technique using circular movements of the fingers or hands to improve cell function. It seems to restore the animal’s confidence. I would have loved to have known about this when I became a mother.

The brainchild of Linda Tellington-Jones, TTouch may be used on all animals. Nowadays I often use it on myself and on my four 12-year-old cats. Once I dared to try it on an Appaloosa horse that was looking cross while she waited for her groom. She was nervous at first, then expelled a loud breath and seemed to melt into my hand. I was awestruck at the feeling of communication. Suddenly I had an inkling of what Elke experiences.


By the time I met her, Elke had been a certified massage therapist for 10 years and a registered Jin Shin Do practitioner. She also practices trans-personal integration, polarity, shiatsu, reflexology, zero balancing, cranial sacral therapy, hypnosis, Trager, Watsu, Chi Nai Tsang, Continuum Movements, and Feldenkrais. Her sessions with animals are a preference. Of course animals don’t pay in cash so the other disciplines on human animals are still very much part of her life.

‘Melting with another being through touch is where peace begins.‘ In June 1996 Elke had her first encounter with Scuddy, a female Black Rhino with a leg injury.

‘There was a sense of knowing between us. She trusted me, putting her mouth in my hands. Her ears have fascinating soft and hard textures.‘

Scuddy was discovered later to be pregnant. In 1997 her little son, Magnum, gave Elke a delightful welcome in muzzling her face the first time they met.

As she has no qualms in sharing her knowledge, Elke taught Scuddy’s keepers to do the TTouch. Hopefully, they will pass on their knowledge to others.

It’s been good to live vicariously through all of Elke’s animal experiences. She told of a baby giraffe that she fed with a bottle; it was only 45 days old. After feeding, it ‘kissed’ her face from her neck to the top of her head. The hairs on its soft lips, Elke says, felt tickly and scratchy.

‘It felt like I, had been kissed and loved by a thousand feathers, given to me from an innocent young animal held in captivity.’