As we continue to reveal the human faces behind our elephants, today we introduce Owen Dube. He is a Level 4 Groom, the highest level achieved in the hierarchy relating to performance, work ethic, loyalty and skill when it comes to the very unique job of working with elephants.
How long have you been with the Camp Jabulani herd?
I started working at Camp Jabulani in 2005.
How was it that you ended up working with elephants? Was Camp Jabulani the first time you interacted with elephants?
No, it was not. I worked at Wild Horizons in Zimbabwe from 1999. I initially cleaned the stables, cut branches and fed the elephants.
What does your typical day involve?
Our day starts at 6 am when the gates of the stables are opened and the elephants emerge after a safe night in their protected area. Each elephant will take its own brush as they exit the stables and find a spot in the open area. Here they are inspected and brushed off to make sure they don’t have any thorns, wounds or anything that might bother them.
The elephants going on safari will then move one by one past a platform to get their saddles. The use of the platform prevents them from having to adopt a funny or abnormal position during saddling up, and from having to lie down too – an un-natural position. The process is very similar to saddling a horse.
The elephants then go for a short walk to prevent them from getting bored while waiting for the guests. After being offered a drink of water, they will return to pick up their guests to go on safari. Not all elephants go on safari. Eight or more of the elephants will then go straight to the bush to feed and forage for the day. Safaris last no more than an hour, and after unsaddling the elephants, they will join the others already feeding in the bush. Depending on the shift, I will either go with the elephants and guests on a safari, or join the elephants that go straight to the bush for the day’s browsing.
I sometimes also do some driving for Camp Jabulani. So on some days I will go to town, either to collect supplies, or collect and drop off some of my colleagues.
Do you have any favourites in the herd, and why?
Yes, Sebakwe. He understands and respects everyone, big or small. If he has to, he can walk between things without stepping on them. When you interact with him, he always gives respect and endears himself to everyone who meet him. He does not have an aggressive attitude.
What do you love most about your job?
Being out in the bush and watching the elephants enjoy themselves.
These are really big animals. How is it that you get them to listen to you?
They may be physically big, but they don’t view themselves as such. You can teach them almost anything and reward them for their efforts. They will rumble sometimes but that’s their way of communicating with you. You must always treat them with compassion and respect, being soft and firm. As long as the commands are clear and you give them time to think about it, they will do as you ask.
Do you ever feel unsafe?
What is it about Camp Jabulani that makes it unique in the way it takes care of its elephants, and the experiences it offers?
Camp Jabulani takes care of its elephants in the best way. The elephants are encouraged and allowed to be the free animals they should be.