We train the Camp Jabulani herd using the reward system, which means we give them treats every time they perform an exercise correctly. Research has shown that this form of training produces far better results than one where the animal’s spirit is broken and all its actions are fear-based.
The training area outside the elephant stables is always littered with warthogs on the hunt for stray pellets that fall while the elephants are doing their exercise routines. These little tidbits are popular with the calves too, and competition between the scavenging pigs and feisty toddlers is fierce.
The warthogs are generally too quick for the clumsy young elephants, but recently Mambo rushed up behind one of the boars and gave it a resounding smack on the behind with his trunk. The fact that he’d finally succeeded in doing something he’d been trying to do for months came as a complete shock to him. So much so that he literally skidded to a halt and turned to check whether or not backup was on hand should he need it. The look of surprise on his face was absolutely priceless, and as soon he realised that he was in no immediate danger he proceeded to strut around importantly for the rest of the morning.
No doubt he’d earned the respect of his fellow kindergarteners.
Last week we went on a night safari and the only baby that joined us on the walk was Klaserie. As is usually the case with the little ones, she spent the majority of the walk at her mother’s side, because as we all know the bush is much scarier at night. The elephants all know the route really well though, so as soon as we get close to the camp the little ones generally run to the front of the line in a bid to be the first ones back at the stables. This upsets Jabulani no end, because as far as he’s concerned he’s the leader and nobody should be allowed to go in front of him. The babies don’t care about his obsessive need for hierarchy however, and go out of their way to ensure they pip him at the post.
Their naughtiness comes at a price though, as he’s quick to discipline them by means of a sharp jab of the tusk into their plump rumps. But only if he’s quick enough, which he often he isn’t because he has the added responsibility of ensuring that his passengers don’t fall off. On this occasion Klaserie managed to successfully make it to the front of the queue – much to Jabu’s indignation – only to come face to face with an enormous buffalo bull.
The poor little girl got such a fright that she just about levitated before turning on her heel and fleeing back to the safety of Mom. During the day these large bovines barely warrant more than a cursory glance from the baby elephants, but clearly meeting up with one in the dark is way more frightening than we could ever imagine. Needless to say the herd’s leader was pleased with the sudden turn of events, and I could have sworn I saw a self-satisfied smirk on his face as the terrified toddler shot past him.
Until next time,