The Harmony of Humans & Elephants at Jabulani ~ Earth Day 2020

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The Little & Big Ways We’re Creating a More Sustainable Home at Jabulani

“Stop waste. Stop waste of any kind. Stop wasting power, stop wasting food, stop wasting plastic. Don’t waste, this is a precious world.”- Sir David Attenborough

April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement. Earth Day 1970 marked the beginning of an awareness that there was discord between ourselves and our home planet.

At Jabulani, we have several carefully planned processes in place to help us achieve our goal of zero waste production, a lower carbon footprint, and a commitment to following best sustainable practices for our environment.

Conservation takes place on so many different levels. Looking after the earth means looking after wildlife and the wilderness, but it also requires looking at our consumption and production.

“Sustainable consumption, in a nutshell, is the use of products and services that have a minimal impact on the environment, allowing for present and future generations to meet their needs. The best way to achieve this is by doing more (and better) with less. Although simple in definition, there are infinite complexities in the implementation of these ideals.”

At Jabulani, we continuously review how we can improve and implement new ideas to keep our consumption to a minimum, which would naturally start with the Jabulani kitchen. Our goal is to continue to decrease our dependence on external fresh-produce suppliers.

The Jabulani Aquaponics System

Our innovative aquaponics system allows us to grow fresh produce most commonly used in our Jabulani kitchen; giving us more control on the quality and source of the ingredients available to our Jabulani chefs.

It’s doing so well that we were recently forced to trim some of the cherry tomato bushes back as they were taking over the rest of the growing beds. A recent basil harvest produced almost 3kg of basil. Our new chilli plants have been sowed into the growing beds and we are hoping to harvest our first chillies in a couple of months. Every Sunday, we harvest spinach from the Aquaponics for a staff lunch. We are also experimenting with papaya trees!

What is Aquaponics?

It’s a combination of aquaculture (growing fish and other aquatic animals), and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). It’s a symbiotic system whereby the plants are fed the waste / discharge from the fish (in our case: tilapia) and in return, the plants clean the water that goes back to the fish.

The fish waste is thereby recycled and made use of, instead of ending up in the ocean and the water used is recirculated in a closed system, reducing the amount of water used!

The Role of Worms ~ Vermiculture

We currently use Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and elephant manure from the Jabulani herd as a growth substrate to break down any wasted fresh produce from the kitchen. This provides the ideal conditions for seed germination. Once the seedlings are a few days of age, we remove them gently from the substrate, rinse them of excessive soil and transfer them the growth beds of the aquaponics system.

We monitor the seedlings carefully until they are settled in and looking healthy. Once these plants come of age and start producing, we harvest the produce for use in our kitchen. Any unused produce then goes back into worm box, and the cycle starts again.

Seedlings are then transferred into the grow beds. Over time the by-products produced by the worm farm, for example, the vermicompost and vermitea (urine) can be used as organic fertiliser and organic insect repellent for the crops respectively.

If projects like these were implemented on a nationwide scale, they would collectively relieve the pressure on the finite natural resources, and ultimately have a positive spin-off for food security in South Africa.

In addition to our sustainability goals, we are invested in greater conservation in our wilderness in South Africa.

Every day at Jabulani involves considering our role in the greater health of the Earth. Every day is Earth Day out here, to ensure a better life for not only ourselves but the wildlife, and especially the elephant herd and the wild elephants that we offer protection for. Interestingly, many people associate elephants as being destructive for the environment when in fenced areas. But they are in fact essential environmental engineers.

“Elephants are generally referred to as ecosystem engineers,” Juan tells us, “because of the significant role they play in modifying and shaping the landscape.

Elephants often push over and uproot trees. These decomposing trees, in turn, create a new habitat for small mammals and thousands of insect species. Elephants strip trees of their bark – after which the tree usually dies.”

“They clear areas that are overgrown with thick strands of encroaching small trees, making these areas more accessible to other animals. During this clearing event, the surface of soil will be littered with small branches. These scattered branches, along with the elephant dung, create a microhabitat ideal for seed germination. As elephants travel, the spread seeds all over, often introducing much-needed plant diversity in previously mismanaged areas.”

Our herd calls for something a little different though, in terms of our role in environmental management…

Jabulani was created out of a need to provide a home for a herd of elephants that was rescued in 2002 from Zimbabwe, where they were to be culled during the country’s tumultuous land reforms. The herd was brought to South Africa and introduced to Jabulani, the little elephant that started it all. Since then, four calves have been born to the greater herd and another two orphan elephants have been introduced. Over time, the herd has gradually increased in size, with no sign of slowing down.

As the elephants can’t be more than a few hours walk away from the central paddocks where they reside at night, a few challenges have arisen. The limited size of our herd’s home range, previous agricultural activities and selective overgrazing all threaten to degrade the land.

Our Holistic Environmental Management Plan at Jabulani…

Our plan aims to rehabilitate the affected areas and protect them from future degradation, keeping in mind the ever-increasing size of the herd, but also to work with and help the environment in other ways not related to the herd – other factors, animals and natural processes.

Environmental Manager, Juan and his team work to combat large erosion networks to prevent the loss of valuable topsoil. They plan and revise road networks and associated infrastructure and techniques that will revive the basal grass layer essential for ecosystem well-being. They also carry out strategies to protect existing large trees from being pushed over by the herd – trees that are critical for nature’s hydrological cycle, pollination, micro-habitats for smaller members of the ecosystem and to shade animals from the sun.

Juan and his team also monitor the reserve fence infrastructure to ensure the valuable wildlife in the reserve, “the life force of our ecotourism industry,” he calls them, stay within the confines of the reserve. “If we fail in this, there may and arguably will be severe consequences.”

Taking care of our reserve is an important part of our responsibility in creating a greener future and more sustainable world. We work tirelessly to ensure that both the environment and people (whether living here or visiting) exist and thrive harmoniously together.

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