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