“Ndlovu at Kubu Dam close to Adine’s house.”
Ndlovu is the Shangaan word for elephant. For some reason rangers have an aversion to calling the animals by their english names. 😉
I was on my way home from HESC when I heard the rangers’ reports on the radio.
Later that evening I went outside to have my daily chat with the animals (my children have started questioning my reasons for talking to the animals – they’re at an age now where everything their mother does embarrasses them) that so often congregate around the house.
The herd of elephants the rangers had seen earlier were milling about, grazing on the few meters of grass we’d planted as a barrier for field fires. The family structures in the herd were instantly recognisable. The matriarch with the four calves she’s had over a period of ten years was closest to me. I then noticed a large bull to my left, and realized it was Joe.
I called him, hoping that he’d acknowledge me and come over to say hello. I understood that this went against our principles of encouraging Joe to be wild, but I just wanted the opportunity to let him know how incredibly proud we were of him. When he didn’t move closer I spoke to him from where I was. Although the herd was very calm around me, I didn’t venture out of the yard. I’m very clear that even though I’m blessed to have a house in such beautiful surroundings, what lies beyond the gate is not my space.
I stood a while longer. I was still hoping that Joe would come up to me, but he didn’t. A little while later the herd left, grazing calmly as they moved off in a westerly direction. Joe was still standing under the Marula tree where I first spotted him. I encouraged him to move on and catch up with the herd, which he did.
I arrived at the stables very early the next morning. At five am the sun is only just beginning to light the horizon. I love this time of the day, it’s so calm and peaceful.
Joe was there waiting for me.
I was stunned. I wondered if it was merely a coincidence, or if my talking to him the previous evening had something to do with him being there.
As Camp Jabulani’s elephants came out of the stables, the youngsters all made a beeline for Joe. A lot of talking went on between the herd and Joe for a good few of minutes. Joe then spent some time playing with the babies, before slowly making his way over to us. It was as if he’d never left.
We gave him a general check-up to make sure that he was okay, and Joe was as charming and patient as ever.
As the handlers went about their day, brushing the elephants, walking them through their daily exercises, and giving them their check-ups, Joe eventually wandered off.
Every so often he’d stop and wait, but then he’d move on again. Until eventually we couldn’t see him anymore.
We spotted him again later that day with the wild herd, and he was displaying all the typical characteristics of a wild bull. For someone coming upon him for the first time, they could never have known he was once part of a trained herd.
His is a real success story, and proof that releasing an elephant back into the wild can be done. Although this triumph has more to do with his strong character and integrity, than anything we did to facilitate the move. Humans can definitely learn from Joe.
Click here to view the video clip of Joe’s visit.
Until next time,