Gordon and I manage a game farm on the South African border, with the Botswana and Zambian border posts along the farm. Due to a new fence being erected on a privately owned farm over the Limpopo River, an elephant herd had been displaced and was moving through the farms bordering the river. They were causing extreme problems for the crop farmers and homesteads, and were being destructive even on our property. There wasn’t much for them to graze on in Botswana, so the farms on our side were an attraction. On the Botswana side they were moving in and around a lodge and campsite, causing considerable terror among the locals!
In June 2009, we had heard shots coming from Botswana and went across the border to establish what was going on. The Botswana police informed us that the BDF were firing thunder flashes at an elephant herd to attempt to chase them away from the border post and the residences there. The following day, 30 June 2009, Gordon discovered Kumbura about 1.5km from our home. With her being so little, he was alerted to the fact that something was not right and therefore decided to monitor her movements through the day. By the next day we were sure that she had been separated from the herd. We had some of our staff members stay with her, not wanting to disturb any chance she might have of being reunited with her family.
At this point we were attempting to obtain a permit to contain her as we were worried she needed food and liquids. We had found two potential homes for her. We were told that there was no chance of us being issued a containment permit and that we should leave nature to take its course. We were angry and frustrated to say the least. This little elephant had been separated from her herd through human intervention, we felt it was therefore a human obligation to save her.
In the next few days that followed, she was occasionally seen but then seemed to have disappeared. We hoped that she had found her herd again. In the interim one of the conservation representatives went above and beyond the call of duty and contacted Paul Coetzee from Camp Jabulani. They managed to get paperwork in order and organise a vet from Ellisras to capture her. It was fortunate that when they were available to attempt the capture she had been seen that day. They arrived here on the 10th July and late that afternoon found her and went in to attempt to dart her. Unfortunately the light was fading fast and due to an error on loading the dart gun she disappeared back over the river into Botswana without ever being darted. At this point, Paul Coetzee was holding her by her ears and trying to calm her! He is truly an amazing man and did his utmost for her.
For a while we saw no sign of her or any other elephant and were sure that she would have perished – if not from malnutrition, then from loneliness. It was a very sad consideration and left us feeling impotent and frustrated. On occasion we would hear the elephant, and in retrospect we are sure it was Kumbura trying to join one of the herds which were in the area.
On the 27th August, while taking a Sunday drive along the Limpopo, we spotted her for the first time since the 10th of July. At this point she had been separated from her herd for two months, and was looking extremely thin and destitute. By that evening Paul and Wayne Coetzee were at our home having driven 5 hours to reach us, and were ready to make a second attempt at capturing her. At first light, Paul, Wayne and Gordon went searching for her. By 7 o’clock she was darted and ready to load – at which point my family and I joined. Once she was revived and being encouraged onto the back of the bakkie, she never seemed to resist – perhaps she was weak, but it really seemed as though she knew she was being helped.
After Gordon had had to weld the back of the crate closed, the vehicle left and that evening we received the news that she had arrived safely at Camp Jabulani and was eating.
In August 2013 we had the opportunity to visit her among the other Camp Jabulani Elephants. Seeing the physical evidence of our determination, and the wonderful home with which Kumbura has been blessed, was a very moving experience.
Thank you to all for looking after her.