On Thursday the 28th of June we experienced an extremely tragic event when Joe – the elephant that left our herd in favour of a life in the wild – inexplicably turned on one of the four grooms that had accompanied the herd on their walk. Sadly, Aroti Kamupambe was critically injured in the process and died shortly afterwards. This resulted in us having to make the extremely difficult decision to euthanise Joe.
Ever since we posted the news, kind words and condolences have poured in from guests who had visited Camp Jabulani and recalled the herd and their time at the lodge with fondness.
Of course, the question on everyone’s mind – not least of all our own – was why this happened in the first place. Unfortunately this is one question we’ll never be able to answer conclusively, because even after conducting stringent post-mortem testing all we found was that Joe’s testosterone concentration was very high, similar to that of a bull in, or very close to, musth.
It is hard to imagine the amount of work that goes into looking after an elephant. Not only in providing for its physical needs, but also in maintaining consistent patterns, habits and disciplines. This is 24/7 job, and something we do with great passion and dedication. Every single day these elephants have a distinct routine, including being trained by the grooms and elephant master (using a system of reward, never intimidation) for the specific reason that the animals know to listen on command – always. And this is something that the Camp Jabulani herd are known to do very well. Our herd is a happy one, specifically because of the consistent discipline they receive, balanced by the loving care from their handlers.
Joe was removed from the Camp Jabulani herd quite some time ago, after he indicated the desire to leave. We supported his choice, and although this was something we had never had to deal with before, we were heartened by the fact that a trained elephant could in fact be integrated with a wild herd successfully. The terrible turn of events has, unfortunately, now enforced the belief that this is simply not possible. Once human intervention has been stamped on an elephant, it is our belief that it is not possible for that animal to return to being wild. The very reason this camp was started in the first place.
Joe was no longer part of the herd from the day he wandered into the bush to join the wild group. He was not subject to the daily habits of the other elephants, and was – for all intents and purposes – a wild elephant. He returned to us on occasion to “touch base”, and would sometimes fall in behind the other elephants on safari, although this was always of his own accord. He was never saddled or trained, and remained this way for almost a year.