A first hand account by Adine Roode (Owner, Camp Jabulani) on the arrival of an orphaned baby elephant at Camp Jabulani:
On 19 November 2016, I got an urgent message to contact Michelle Henley from Elephants Alive. An elephant calf, presumed to be two years old, had been found wandering on its own. It was speculated that the mother may have died two weeks prior.
Assuming that the calf was about two years old, this would mean that it was, in all likelihood, almost weaned. Without much information on the state of the young elephant, we were left with a bit of a predicament as to where to place it. Should we prepare a boma at HESC, which is a better–equipped facility for orphaned and physically compromised animals? Or should we introduce it to the Camp Jabulani elephant herd, the best possible solution for a stronger animal, in a quest to minimise the human imprint. Although the boma at HESC was prepared and ready, I went with my gut and made the call to rather take the calf straight to the stables at Camp Jabulani.
Just over a year ago we had upgraded our stables to accommodate an ageing herd, and therefore didn’t have the ideal infrastructure to accommodate a young orphan such as this one. With the help of the grooms and management, we quickly revamped the area where we currently store the elephant saddles. We grinded off edges of steel structures to prevent the baby elephant from getting hurt, and also built a boundary on the structure’s two open sides with balls of grass (used for bedding and feeding our elephants). We then made a door with canvas to keep out the wind, and brought in a heater (erected safely out of reach) and hung some infrared lights for additional heat. A huge risk to young elephants is a dangerously low body temperature caused by trauma and stress.
We soon welcomed two vehicles from Elephants Alive along with the vet at the Camp Jabulani gate, and wasted no time in rushing back to the elephant stables. The baby elephant was sedated and lying on her side in the back of the vehicle, two people sitting flanking her. We opened the trunk of the 4×4, and placed the calf on a canvas carrier, moving her out of the vehicle. Although the sedation was wearing off, the elephant still not fully awake. We helped her onto her four legs and guided her to the new make shift boma area, with a towel draped around her head.
The boma is right next to the stables, separated only by a fence. The elephant herd had not yet returned from their day out on the reserve, but were due back soon. There was no doubt that they would smell and hear the new baby. She was quite vocal, and as the sedation quickly wore off she paced around the room. She soon found a weak link in our haystack barrier, and forced herself into the space. Although we tried to keep her calm she had discovered a ‘open spot’ and was curious to see where it led to.
The herd returned and as usual made themselves comfortable, feeding on their freshly cut leaves and branches. Although they responded to the young elephant’s rumbles from time to time, they did not show any sign of discomfort at the “intruder’s”. About two hours later we decided to move the calf into the shed with the lucerne.
After preparing and baby-proofing the shed, we led the baby elephant out of her temporary boma. While passing Fishan, Bubi and Zindoga, they started trumpeting and became much more inquisitive about the young elephant in their space. The young calf between us also did her fair share of trumpeting in response! Although it took just seconds, it felt like ages before we got to the shed and closed the door with bails of hay again. We were gratified when the baby elephant ate the bana grass we offered (and which she seemed to love!) and drank water from the bucket.
Having now had the opportunity to see and observe her, and the fact that she had not yet developed any tusks, we estimated her age to be about 10 months old. She was thin but not weak, and clearly had a very strong will to survive!
As this young orphan was brought to us by Michelle Henley from Elephants Alive, I afforded her the honours of naming the baby. She chose the name Timisa, which means courageous in XiTsonga, one of South Africa’s local dialects.
Read more about Timisa’s introduction to the Camp Jabulani herd, in our next instalment.