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A tragic event

By 28th Jun 2011 17 Comments

On Thursday morning an extremely tragic incident occurred at Jabulani. Shortly before the end of the early morning elephant walk, Joe – the elephant that left to join a wild herd on the reserve – decided to wander back and join the excursion. As you all know he’s come back to visit on a couple of occasions, and at one point even moved back in for a few days. On this particular morning he returned with the elephants and remained with them while they were un-saddled. He then walked with them into the reserve for their daily free time.

It was at this point that Joe inexplicably turned on one of the four grooms that had accompanied the herd on their walk. Sadly, Aroti Kamupambe was critically injured in the process and died shortly afterwards.

We are all deeply shocked by the incident and have no idea what prompted Joe’s aggressive behaviour, because while he was still with us he only ever displayed the most gentle of temperaments.

Our intention has never been to take wild elephants out of their natural environment and tame them. We have only ever made a home and a sanctuary for those elephants that had already been taken out of the wild prior to coming to us. However questions were raised around the possibility of re-introducing elephants back into nature, and Joe was just a real success story in this regard.

Since last year Joe was no longer part of the elephant safari operation. He came back to visit from time to time while the elephants were having breakfast or enjoying their afternoon mud bath at the dam, and he never showed any trace of aggressive behaviour towards either the elephants or trainers. He let us examine him physically to make sure he was okay, and even allowed us to clean a wound resulting from a thorn that was stuck in his skin. He would play with the baby elephants, catch up with his old herd mates, and then just wander off again.

After several meetings with various specialists a decision was reached to euthanize Joe. It was mainly due to the human density on the reserve that we arrived at this extremely difficult decision, as we could not risk the possibility of a future incident. Since he also started displaying menacing behaviour towards the other wildlife and elephants, we felt  this was in everyone’s best interests.

It would have been easier if we had a way to know what made Joe behave like he did last Thursday, but unfortunately we’ll never know what was going through his mind at the time.

In a meeting with the handlers, Senior Handler, Tigere Matipedza said: “People do their jobs and use their heads to work in an office. We realise that our job has risks and we therefore work with our hearts. We love our jobs and the elephants, and there is a deep love and respect between the two.”

Aroti Kamupambe was well liked by us all here at the Camp; he was a pleasant and friendly man and will be sorely missed. Aroti leaves behind a wife and son, and to this end we have established a trust fund to ensure his son’s future education.

Our deepest condolences go out to the groom’s family and friends. From the team and management here at the camp, we offer our heartfelt support over this difficult time.

The Jabulani Team


  • Nicky and I stayed at Camp Jabulani last August as one of the first stops on our honeymoon. It is a magical place and we will never forget it. Joe had just wandered off shortly before we arrived. This is a terrible tragedy. It is so very sad that Joe’s life has ended this way. He was magnificent and it must be extremely difficult for all at Camp Jabulani to come to terms with this situation. The loss of Aroti is terrible. A very hard working man and father has been lost in the most unbelieveable and unavoidable of circumstances. Our heartfelt condolances go out to his family. Please could you publish the details of the trust fund so that we can make a contribution. It is the very least we could do.

  • Hi Kieron. Thank you so much for your kind words and extremely generous offer. I’ll find out the details and get back to you 🙂

  • We are saddened by the dual loss you have suffered. We remember Joe well from our visit last March hoped he would assimilate into the wild. We too would like to contribute to the family fund so please send details when they are available. Please relate to his family how special his work was and how it affected so many in such a positive manner.
    Susan and Phil von Hemert

  • Hi there Susan and Phil. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’ll be sure to pass your message along to Aroti’s family and everyone at the camp. 🙂

  • Anthony Meinecke says:

    It was sad to hear about this incident with Joe. We stayed here last year and everyone was so happy about Joe being integrated back into a wild heard and the success story it was. Please accept out condolences for both Aroti and Joe. Camp Jabulani is such a beautiful place and a wonderful experience. Best wishes.

  • Hi Anthony. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’ll be sure to send them along to the camp. 😉

  • Beth Vegso says:

    We are so saddened to hear of the loss of your groom, Aroti and the majestic Joe. Please pass on our condolences to Aroti’s family.
    My husband, daughter and I stayed at Camp Jabulani last August. It wasn’t long before this that Joe had left the Camp and began his new life with the wild herd. We had the opportunity to watch Joe interact with his new family while on a game drive. He was such a beautiful elephant.
    This is such a tragedy. Please know we are thinking of everyone at this time.

  • Karen Jennings says:

    I was deeply saddened to hear about Joe and the death of Aroti. I had the pleasure of being at the camp last year and being in the travel business , I have sent many guests to Jabulani. I have also stayed at Elephant camp in Zimbabwe many years ago…. another wonderful experience. however, I always have mixed emotions. I am NOT an expert on animal behavior, but I do question what is the right thing for these beautiful animals… or any for that matter. Do we really ” save” them if what we do requires “training”. Or do we just give them a safe place to live and let them do it on their terms, not ours. I don’t know what the right answer is and it is not a judgment. I just know that these are always sad experiences. I also wonder if the elephant was put to sleep, if there was a way to determine if there was an explanation for the erratic behavior…. such as a brain tumor or medical condition.
    To both Joe and Aroti….. Rest in peace.

  • I am so sorry to hear of your tragic accident at Camp Jabulani, I stayed there in April and was in awe of your majestic elephants especially Jabulani and Joe. Joe was such a beautiful elephant, he came up to the lodge the night before I left and tore bark off the trees. Your grooms all seemed so kind. I hope to return for a holiday when finances permit. With sympathy for your loss. Marcelle Kerr

  • Hi there Beth
    Thank you for your kind words, they mean so much to us at this sad time. I’ll make sure Aroti’s family receives your condolences. 🙂

  • Hi there Karen. Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts with us. We’re in the process of trying to ascertain what happened with Joe, and should we find anything conclusive we’ll most certainly share our findings. 🙂

  • Hi Marcelle. Thank you for your kind words. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to visit the lodge, and we look forward to welcoming you back soon! 🙂

  • K.Davis says:

    I had the pleasure of taking a ride on Joe’s back and he was a magnificent elephant. Im extremely sad to hear of his loss and the groomsmen. I was watching a show on elephants the other day and watched a male elephant that was being kicked out of the herd by the female elephants and he tried to kill a baby elephant by drowning it. the experts thought he felt rejected and retaliated. Since Joe was known as a calm elephant i wonder if by being set free alone from his original herd he may have felt rejected and didnt understand you had given him back the wild and a new herd. He may have even felt rejected by the new wild herd, you never really know what he was thinking or experiencing.
    On another show I watched where a herd of wild elephants had some of the elephants killed or injured by Massai warriors. The elephants in retaliation knew not to attack the warriors directly due to their spears so they instead sought out the Massai’s unprotected cattle and started killing them. They were smart enough to realize this would hurt the Massai and was a safer way to go for them.
    There was 1 show where teenage male elephants kept attacking Rhinos in the wild and what they realized is was in an area where after decades of various wars and ivory hunting all the older male elephants had been wiped out and to stop the over 200 hundred rhino attacks by various male elephants, older male elephants from other areas were brought into the park to try to teach them the proper way to behave and it worked. The rhino attacks stopped.
    On yet another show, yes I watch way to much tv, an elephant from a traveling circus had become very old and had always been used to set up the tent poles but was given retirement. he became very unhappy and stopped eating for days and became extremely depressed. They put him back to work and he began eating again and perked up again.
    and lastly on another video from a zoo an elephant has one trainer very close to it and there is a 2nd trainer in the distance, and the elephant looks at them both, but then stares at the closest one to him and waits til he turns his back and then takes off after the 2nd trainer in the distance trying to kill him and when the first trainer tries to stop the attack, the elephant keeps up the attack but never hurts the 1st trainer at all.
    Sadly no one will ever know what was in Joe’s mind and why he did what he did. They are very smart and sensitive animals. Personaly, I think he may have felt rejected and didnt understand. You tried to do the right thing by giving him freedom and the best life possible. He may have just been being an elephant in the end.
    I will always have a great place in my heart for Joe and the groomsmen. Camp Jabulani is my favorite place i have ever stayed in the world. I think Lente is one of the best people I have ever met in my life. i think she has a huge heart for all animals and has done amazing things for so many of them. Without Lente Joe had zero future in Zimbabwe, because of her she gave him so many more years of life and happiness.
    My deepest sympathies to Aroti’s family, the whole staff, and to the elephants too.
    Kris Davis

  • Hi there Kris. Those are some really interesting stories, thank you so much for taking the time to share them with us. Thank you also for your kind words and condolences, I’ll make sure they reach Aroti’s family. 😉

  • Kelly Curtis MD and Patricia Curtis says:

    My mother and I had the good fortune to stay at your Camp in March 2009. What wonderful memories we have. After reading the story about Joe, we couldn’t help but wonder if elephants might develop dementia-like conditions similar to humans? Having dealt with family members suffering from dementia, Joe’s behavior (wandering away, coming back for brief periods, aggressive behavior) seems very much like the manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease in people. Does anyone know if such a syndrome develops in elephants?
    Our condolences to Aroti’s family. Please send us information on how to contribute to the trust fund for his family.

  • Hi Kelly. It’s always nice to hear that our guests have such wonderful memories from their visit at Camp Jabulani. Thank you for your condolences, I’ll make sure they reach Androti’s family. I’ll ask Iain, our elephant master, to answer your question. 😉

  • […] Thursday the 28th of June we experienced an extremely tragic event when Joe – the elephant that left our herd in favour of a life in the wild – […]

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