We have recently witnessed a rather unusual turn of events here at Camp Jabulani. As visitors to both the Camp and HESC will know, it was never our intention to offer Elephant Back Safaris as a purely commercial venture.
The idea grew out of necessity.
First we had to find a way to take care of Jabulani, the baby elephant we rescued and nursed back to health when he was still very young. He opted to stay with his ‘human family’, despite numerous attempts to return him to the wild. We then rescued twelve elephants from Zimbabwe, and that essentially decided the Camp’s future.
As the wide-eyed custodians of these gentle giants, we needed to find a way to care for them that was sustainable in the long-term. Because no matter how well-intentioned, nobody can hope to keep a herd of elephants fed and watered out of their own pocket.
By offering Elephant Back Safaris we have been able to ensure that we have the financial resources to care for our charges.
Recently one of the herd showed us that he was ready to leave the nest. On the 23rd of August Joe left the herd after an altercation with a young wild elephant bull that was in the area. This in itself was not unusual behaviour, as our elephants do sometimes slip away from the others.
Even elephants need a little ‘me time’, and living in such close quarters with one another the need for this does arise from time to time. However, when they do wander off they normally return to the stables around dusk. Otherwise known as dinnertime!
But Joe didn’t come back. The next day he was seen feeding with a herd of wild elephants, and appeared to be quite relaxed. He stayed with them for the next three days. During this time he was seen daily by the rangers, so we were able to monitor his movements. His absence upset the rest of the Camp Jabulani herd quite a bit, so on the fourth day I went with Adine Roode (owner) and a couple of the grooms to see if we could persuade him to return home.
We found him feeding at the side of a track with the wild elephants. He immediately walked over to us when called, and stretched down on command. One of the grooms climbed onto him and rode him back to the camp. He settled down again and was even happy to go on safari, although he rumbled loudly while out in the bush. We assumed this was because he was talking to the wild herd.
Then just before the end of the month he slipped away a second time, and went back to the wild herd. Clearly Joe was telling us that the time had come for him to return to the wild. After a great deal of deliberation we came to the decision to leave him with his new family.
It has never been our policy to keep our animals in captivity against their will, and since Joe has very clearly demonstrated that he would like to try living in the wild, it is up to us to honour that desire.
For the time being his stall at the stables will remain empty, just in case he changes his mind. However should he decide to stay in the wild we have a couple of youngsters that will be ready for their own room soon.
Joe has on occasion joined his old herd at the waterhole for a drink and a bit of social, but he always leaves again as soon as he is finished.
It will be interesting to see how the dynamics of the trained herd change now that their dominant bull is no longer with them. It’s going to be equally fascinating to follow Joe’s daily movements on the reserve. Already the rangers have commented on how he has calmed the wild herd with his presence, which has made them much more approachable as a result.
We wish him all the best as he embarks on this next stage in his life. From orphaned baby rescued from the culling operations in Zimbabwe, to dominant bull on Kapama Nature Reserve, he really has come a long way. We will continue to monitor him to make sure that he is alright, but what remains to be seen now is if any of the other trained elephants will follow his example in the years to come.
Until next time,