Jabulani the Elephant Bull Turns 25 | From Orphan to Herd Member

by jabulanisafari

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We have been celebrating 25 years of rescued elephant orphan Jabulani this month, March 2022, and 20 years of his integration into a new herd. Jabulani was rescued in 1997 at around four months of age. This was the same year that Jabulani MD and Owner, Adine Roode’s son, Xander was born. It’s not something you forget easily and it laid the foundation for the future of elephant rehabilitation and integration.

Adine wasn’t as involved with the elephants in the early days as she is now, as owner of Jabulani lodge and Founder of HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation & Development), South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage, but she says below – in an excerpt from a book Adine is currently writing about her journey with the elephants:

“I would have loved to have done those walks with Jabulani during his rehabilitation. To sleep out in the bush with him while we tried to rewild him. To meet the wild herd with him. Who knows, I might have talked the wild herd’s Matriarch into accepting Jabulani and then it would have been the end of this story. Well the Matriarch didn’t accept Jabulani, she was still young and went on her knees aggressively and would have killed him… but he was a youngster, a bull with an attitude. He loved and still loves humans. They were what he knew and felt comfortable with. Perhaps it was a simple personality clash between the Matriarch and Jabulani? Bottomline is, it was too dangerous to continue the introduction process of Jabulani and the wild herd, in our attempt to integrate him. Bear in mind that the Matriarch at that stage also didn’t have any offspring. With all due respect I would not have known how to take care of a baby then myself, as I had never had experience with babies until I had my own. Now, it is a different story. As I always say to my kids, ‘Never judge anyone, till you are in their shoes’.”

“I often sit with the wild herd and that same Matriarch who has had numerous babies since those early days. She is wiser, older, more mature. Who knows…she might have accepted Jabulani now. But I also tried with Mopane, an orphan who sadly passed away. I didn’t try with him as an elephant, but I took his dung and put it in the paths of the elephants and watched their (and the Matriarch’s specifically) body language, acceptance of, and reaction to his dung. There was none, zero, no reaction to another baby orphan’s smell that could indicate acceptance.”

Jabulani fortunately found a new herd and at the same time, a new herd found a second chance at life.

The team behind Jabulani and HERD have always believed in not letting orphans or displaced elephants suffer due to the effects of human-elephant conflict. Helping to save every orphan in need and provide them with a herd is Adine and HERD’s mission. You could think of the rescued herd as a bit of a band of misfits, but yet with all their different origins, they have created something in their new home in our reserve that resembles a herd as nature intended. Albeit with a few extra bulls in the mix.

It must have felt natural to Matriarch, Tokwe and the other elephants in the herd to accept Jabulani into their clan as it was largely all they had known – not bonds of blood, but bonds of circumstance. Tokwe, like the wild elephant Matriarch above, had never birthed her own calf before, and yet she had the instinct to take in five-year-old Jabulani and help raise him. It’s unheard of in the wild among elephants, but shows their capacity for adaptation to new circumstances and a drive toward empathy and family. There is only a nine-year difference between Tokwe and Jabulani. Today, the bull towers over Tokwe, as bulls are typically taller and bigger than cows. But we’ll never forget the tiny calf who once stood around her legs.

Tokwe of course had the support of the other elephants from Zimbabwe, who helped to accept and raise Jabulani, alongside the elephant carers. Adine has been on this journey deep into the hearts and minds of elephants for numerous years. She established HERD Trust and elephant orphanage to better provide for the herd throughout blows like COVID and as a way to accept new orphans with a better structure to care for them. Now Jabulani is able to accept new orphans who once stood just like him, before a herd, hoping to find a family to call their own.

We are immensely grateful for this journey and having supporters and followers travelling the path with us, as we believe nothing is more rewarding than giving orphans a new chance at life. Khanyisa stood before Jabulani as he stood before Tokwe once and even as a bull of 23 years, he took her in, showed her constant interest and support. It is this support from Jabulani and the entire herd that has helped orphans like Khanyisa, Timisa and Kumbura heal and find somewhere they belong.

Jabulani’s Journey from Orphan to Herd Member

Jabulani was rescued from a deep pool of mud, having undergone a lot of injuries from the evident rescue attempts by his herd, who must have eventually given up and abandoned him. His little life was saved just in time, and he was taken into the care of Lente Roode (Adine’s mother) and he was rehabilitated successfully, in the warm love of a caring human family.

When he was healthy enough and weaned so not having to rely on the team for milk anymore, the team tried to introduce Jabulani to wild elephant herds. But, wild herds are known for not usually accepting elephants outside of their family structure, and he was sadly rejected, after multiple attempts.

In 2002, Lente Roode was asked to consider rescuing a herd of elephants from Zimbabwe whose lives were under threat during their national land reformation processes. Most of the herd were orphaned as a result of culling operations; however, we don’t have details of each one of their histories, sadly. The elephant carers’ livelihoods were at stake too.

Lente agreed to take the elephants in, also with the hope that they would perhaps accept Jabulani. But there was no guarantee, given the history of their previous attempts with wild herds. Fortunately, a few months after the herd arrived and settled, it was time to introduce Jabulani to them. Tokwe, the matriarch, showed pure grace and acceptance and placed her trunk into his mouth and from that day accepted him, along with the rest of the herd.

Today the herd spend sunrise to sunset roaming their big 5 wilderness with the protection of elephant carers, swimming, foraging, playing, walking, mud bathing and helping to raise new orphans integrated into their blended herd.





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