Forty-nine year old Filikies Ngomane wakes up early in the morning in his home in Aconhoek, to travel by bus to the gates of Kapama Game Reserve where he begins his workday at 7am. Filikies is one of six stable hands, and plays a very important role in the livelihood of Camp Jabulani’s elephants. He and his colleagues work tirelessly to keep the animals clean and fed.
Filikies begins his morning by cleaning the stables. With the help of three other stable hands, he clears out all of the old branches and elephant dung, before washing the floors down with water. The elephants produce tons (literally) of dung every day! As nothing goes to waste, much of the elephant dung is used to fill holes in the roads on the reserve.
Filikes then drives out into the reserve with the tractor in order to collect branches for the elephants’ food. But not just any branches, mind you. Filikies must find their favorites! These include the silver cluster leaf tree, the round leaf tick tree and the russet bush willow. Filikies admits that this is his favorite part of the day. The stable hands will also cut the Banna grass cultivated in a field behind the stables, which also forms part of the elephants’ diet.
Lastly, fresh water and lucerne is restocked in the stables. During the day the Camp Jabulani elephants roam freely in the bush, but at night they like to sleep inside. The elephants can eat up to 60kg of food a night!
Once Filikies has finished with his tasks relating to the elephants’ comfort and wellbeing, he spends the last part of his day conducting general maintenance on the reserve, including fixing fences and roads. At 15:30 he signs off for the day and catches another bus back home.
“Being a stable hand is a tough job”, says elephant manager, Tigere Matipedza. “They work really hard every day”. Tigere speaks from first hand experience, as he himself was once a stable hand. He explains that as part of their training, all elephant handlers begin as stable hands. In this way, the men are exposed to the elephants’ behavior and routines first-hand, and will understand the animals well once they begin working with them.