The Story of Jabulani
Once upon a time – in 1997, actually – a young elephant found himself stuck in the silt mud of a dam. After attempts to free him, his mother and the rest of the herd were forced to leave the 3-month old calf to the elements. And that might have been the end of another story in the African bushveld, where only the fittest survives.
Enter Lente Roode – owner of Camp Jabulani and founder of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. She took in the exhausted, malnourished and very frightened calf, and offered him sanctuary at the Centre. They named him Jabulani – the isiZulu word for “happiness” or “rejoice”.
The prognosis for Jabulani’s survival was not good – elephant experts were skeptical, since it was almost impossible to replicate elephant mother’s milk. Lente would not be discouraged however and, together with veterinarian Dr Peter Rogers, a formula was developed and Jabulani was slowly nurtured back to health.
Having taken Jabulani in, Lente was faced with the daunting task of raising him. Raising wild animals presents certain challenges, and elephants are no exception. Of all the animals, elephants are perhaps the most “human” in terms of their growth, development and longevity. However, they are unique in their thought processes, feelings and body language and especially those senses that are beyond the scope of human understanding.
Just like human babies, elephant calves are easily bored and need plenty of stimulation. Providing them with a change in surroundings – a muddy earth pit to wallow in when it is very hot, and lots of space – is essential. In elephant terms, space offers the freedom to roam far and wide, just as they would in the wild.
Lente was advised to assign more than one person to care for Jabulani, as elephants bond very strongly with their caregivers, and he would pine dreadfully if his “companion” were to leave. Besides his human “mothers”, Jabulani also had an animal surrogate mother in the form of a hand-raised sheep named “Skaap”. Skaap kept him company in his enclosure at night. Sadly, the sheep was found dead in the enclosure one morning – possibly as a result of her charge cuddling a little too close. Lente then made the decision that it was time to prepare Jabulani for introduction into the wild.
Flippie, one of the guides at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, was chosen to take care of and keep Jabulani company while out in the bush. Man and elephant were together day and night – walking up to 20 km a day, romping and splashing about in the rivers and dams, eating together (albeit different food!), and taking afternoon naps together in the shade. Flippie was armed at all times, as Jabulani was vulnerable to predators.
Time passed and, all too soon, Jabulani turned five. It became clear that he needed elephant companionship. However, having been unsuccessfully introduced to a herd of wild elephants on Kapama Private Game Reserve, it seemed as if Jabulani preferred the company of humans to that of elephants!
A unique opportunity to provide Jabulani with a family of his own presented itself when Lente learned of a herd of 12 trained elephants in Zimbabwe whose lives were in danger. War veterans, who threatened the lives of all those living on the property, had invaded the game farm on which the herd was located.
In March 2002 a massive rescue mission was launched just as Zimbabwe was preparing for election. Just two days before the election took place; Lente bought the elephants and they – together with their keepers – were relocated to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in South Africa. Left with the overwhelming custodianship of 13 beautiful, but mammoth animals, the next logical step was the creation of a camp to support them. It was Lente’s intention that this camp would attract travellers from around the world to experience the extraordinary impact of interacting with elephants. Camp Jabulani was born.
The day dawned that Jabulani was to meet his new family. Onlookers held their collective breath as the young, lone elephant faced the herd. In the silence the herd’s matriarch, Tokwe emitted a low rumble and then slowly approached Jabulani ahead of the herd. She laid her trunk gently on his head, embracing him, and in that instant adopted Jabulani as her own.
Jabulani is now very much part of this close-knit family. He is their mascot, and their affection for him is quite obvious. But aside from his need to be at the front of the queue whenever the elephants take visitors out on elephant-back safaris, Jabulani does know his place in the herd. Today he is a strapping young bull elephant, and it is difficult to conceive that he is the same animal that arrived at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre.
Jabulani is a remarkable elephant. Having survived against all odds, he has integrated equally well with humans and animals, and has enriched the lives of all who have met him. He has entertained many tourists with his antics, and has become a sought-after celebrity both locally and internationally.
To this day, Jabulani is a resolute, somewhat stubborn, yet highly spirited creature, and the kinship and similarity between him and his rescuer, Lente Roode, is clearly evident.