The love between a groom and an elephant
Travelling to Camp Jabulani, situated in Hoedspruit South Africa amongst thorny bushes and dirt roads, it is impossible to describe the intricate experiences that await you there. As children we have many dreams and goals that we would like to accomplish. But perhaps the best dream of all is coming face to face with a mammoth creature still roaming Africa. The magnificent African elephant…
Standing face to face with an “Ellie” as one of the grooms refers to them, is in no lesser words, mesmerising. You are mystified, not only by their size but also their subtlety. And now as you stand there coming to terms with this encounter you gaze at every inch of the Ellie. Their soft eyes with eyelashes that go on forever. Their skin, that appears soft, but the rigidity astonishes you at the touch. You stand back. You look, and you look once more, and it is only then that you dare look away. Then a glance at the people who do this day in and day out. The grooms.
With a cumulative 112 years of experience, this group of men are committed to looking after and taking care of a herd of 15 elephants. It is interesting to hear them talk. To hear them discuss the intricacies of each elephant’s personality and why these creatures mean so much them. Nearly every single groom acknowledges that these animals provided them with a profession and money to take care of their families. Most of them originate from Zimbabwe and moved with the elephants in 2002, when both elephant and groom narrowly escaped death. Twelve of the 15 elephants, all of which had been left orphaned after culling operations in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, were rescued in 2002 at the time of a highly unstable political situation in the country.
Many years have passed but the love that initially brewed between these grooms and elephants lingers on. But, how do the grooms know that they are loved by these giant animals?
Some profess that elephants treat them with more respect than other humans do – quite the insight. Others admire the love, support and general protective nature that the herd harbours for each other and they are all highly praised for being ‘intelligent’ and ‘sensitive fellow animals’. Above all, the herd is commended for taking in the lost and orphaned babies and raising them to become titans.
One such baby, is Jabulani, the namesake of Camp Jabulani who was adopted into the herd. Another is Timisa and currently waiting at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre is Shawu and Mopane, to name but a few.
By way of feeding the elephants, hugging and patting them when they do good and even playing with them, the grooms show that they love them just the same. They say, that just like children, elephants need ratification when doing well and most people will be astounded to know how much elephants are like us. They even visibly mourn their dead.
As you sit and listen to them chatter next to the watering hole, laughing and pointing, you reach a new level of disbelief that this could be someone’s profession. That these grooms get up every morning and walk around the dirt paths, with an elephant trunk in hand. Yet, they do it. Every. Single. Day.The sense of family and friendship traverse many things at Camp Jabulani but the most breath-taking is by far the love between a groom and an elephant.