The Jabulani herd present a unique opportunity to help orphaned elephants in South Africa

Our unusual and unexpected twenty-year journey in elephant conservation has fortuitously given hope and paved the way for a blueprint in caring for orphaned elephants in South Africa, a measure necessitated by the increase in elephant poaching.

Every elephant needs a herd and the biggest challenge when taking on the responsibility for an orphaned elephant is finding a new family for the orphan. Integrating with a new herd is essential to mental wellbeing and health.

Wild herds have been known to reject orphaned elephants, especially when there has been human intervention in caring for the orphans. This situation proved to be the biggest challenge with Jabulani growing up, as Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) tried unsuccessfully over several months to re-integrate him with wild herds on the reserve.

But then fate placed the elephant herd from Zimbabwe (consisting of many orphaned elephants too) on Lente Roode’s path. When the herd met little Jabulani, it immediately accepted him. Jabulani had finally found his new family.

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The herd (now fondly referred to as the Jabulani herd), has continued to welcome another three orphaned elephants without any hesitation.

Tokwe, the Matriarch of our herd, is a remarkable elephant she is exceptionally empathetic, kind and patient and leads by example.

The Jabulani herd now presents a rare opportunity for future orphaned elephants, once they have been nurtured through the crucial first two to three years. Initially, they would be cared for in a separate location, known as the Jabulani Elephant Sanctuary.

During these delicate early years, they need round the clock human care, with frequent feedings of specialised milk formula and a lot of love and undivided attention. Once their day consists of fewer milk feedings and more foraging for grass and leaves, we would introduce them to their new family in waiting, the Jabulani herd, as they would be less reliant on human intervention by that stage.

Naturally, there would be a limit to the number of elephants that could join the herd. We foresee the possibility of creating a secondary herd, when the time comes, and anticipate releasing these elephants into the wild, provided the correct land and environment can be found to ensure their successful reintegration.