By Adine Roode
Up until now, HESC has been providing a home for baby elephant orphans, since it is so well-equipped with amazing facilities for problem animals, with quarantine and boma areas. Over the last three years, four orphans have arrived on our doorstep.
The decision, however, has recently been made to move the orphans from HESC to Jabulani and to build a new orphanage closer to the stables of the Jabulani herd. This is so that we can keep the species together and also offer the elephant orphans access to the adult elephants.
We are confident that the costs involved in creating this orphanage at Jabulani will be justified over the coming years, as we have had more and more elephant calves coming to us. We successfully introduced one orphan immediately to the Jabulani elephant herd and introduced another one to the herd after it spent 17 months at HESC.
It will also be more beneficial for the elephant orphans to have adults, sub-adults and juvenile elephants around them during their development stages. It will no doubt have a positive impact on their mental and physical health.
Although the orphans will enter the nursery area on arrival, we will have the opportunity after assessing their health, to discern when they could join the Jabulani herd for days out on the reserve.
At night, the babies will return to the nursery sleeping area, where we have created a better sleeping area for them and our elephant carers who spend 24 hours in the company of the orphans.
Our carers are nurturers, assisting and guiding the orphans to fit into the natural dynamics of the new social structure at the Jabulani herd.
The new elephant carers
We have recently appointed three more assistants for the elephant carers who are looking after the orphaned elephants. Our senior carers are currently training and overseeing them, guiding them in how and when to be a nurturer, a peace-maker and a rule-enforcer.
These appointments have created jobs for the local community – jobs that are set to be the start of a great new career, as the responsibility of carers extends for a very long time. Some carers might move on with the orphans when they join the herd, but some will stay with the orphans and nursery.
Accommodation for the staff has also be addressed.
Taking care of elephant orphans requires not only husbandry training and a healthy, safe and clean environment for animal and human alike, but also good emotional health. I have seen what a huge impact the carers’ moods have on the orphans.
When they are feeling low it affects the animals. If an elephant orphan is in the presence of someone who exudes happiness, they are likely to also feel upbeat.
Dealing with the ups and downs, the struggles and times of illness is draining and needs to be acknowledged. The emotions can be overwhelming, but we need to figure out how not to let our sadness or anger overwhelm us in a situation, even if it means stepping out and letting our emotions settle. Our staff need to be taught and reminded of the importance of this approach, so that we can minimise blunders and hone in on key issues.
We will also be sure to rotate staff if the need arises and consider the emotional strain of watching over an elephant orphan.
Our carers also need to sharpen the skill of reading non-verbal cues and the easily-missed subtleties of our orphaned elephant patients, in order to interpret a situation with greater accuracy. Something that might look insignificant to someone else, might have a huge impact on the bigger picture.
We are all still human and are not perfect, but we need to address this and make space for such times in order to offer the best care to our elephants.
The New Orphanage
The orphanage consists of three enclosures, a kitchenette, a storeroom, a bathroom and indoor and outdoor playgrounds for the orphans.
With the orphanage, we are also moving and improving our wormery, as well as adding our aquaponics system to this new appointed area. The aquaponics and wormery area will form part of our elephant carers’ job description in order to add more value to our rotation system of staff and to grow our community training projects for the future. More information on this will be distributed shortly, once we have the nursery up and running.
Our Jabulani elephant management plan has been adjusted considerably in order to accommodate the orphans. It will run hand-in-hand with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEAT)’s Norms and Standards of elephant management. It will be the first dedicated elephant nursery in South Africa. The management plan will hopefully assist in streamlining the conflicting regulations we experience across board the South Africa.
My role in the herd
Due to this new and exciting, but very demanding elephant orphanage project, I will step down from HESC as an advisor for the moment. I may one day return, but at this stage I would like to channel my energy into this important project and focus my time on the bigger animals like rhino and elephants.
I will leave the cheetah management to my mother, Lente Roode, which will give her the opportunity to focus more on her first love and the original reason we started HESC in 1989.
Although she wanted to take it easier, focusing on her cheetah is what makes her the driven and passionate women we know her to be. My father would have loved her to be happy and it is working with cheetah that makes her the happiest.
Thank you for all of your support, strength and engagement, as always. We will keep you updated each step of the way as we work to create the first dedicated elephant orphanage in South Africa.
Yours in conservation