The Story of Jabulani. . . A story that has touched the hearts of people all over the world
It all started in June 1997 with a baby elephant who was abandoned by his herd when he became stuck in a silt dam when he was just three months old. Lente Roode, owner of Camp Jabulani and founder of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, discovered the exhausted, malnourished and very frightened calf, hauled him out of the mud and offered him sanctuary at the Centre. He was named Jabulani. The isiZulu word meaning ‘happiness’ or ‘rejoice’ proved to be an apt name for him as he is always jubilant and in the lead with bouncing gait and mischievous eye.
Having rescued Jabulani, Lente, who at that stage didn’t know much about raising elephants, consulted elephant experts around the country on how to raise her new charge. Many were skeptical and said there was little hope for his survival as it is virtually impossible to copy the exact formula of elephant mother’s milk to feed calves. However, a formula was developed and under the supervision of veterinarian Dr Peter Rogers, Jabulani was nurtured back to health.
Raising wild animals provides a unique insight into the subtle complexities of animals: their thinking and feelings, their explicit body language and the hidden world of mysterious senses normally beyond human understanding. Elephants are richly endowed with all of these. Of all the animals, they are, perhaps, also one of the most human, sharing with us a parallel rate of growth and development and similar longevity. Like humans, baby elephants become easily bored, so changing their surroundings may stimulate interest. They like an earth pit to romp in and when it is very hot, a mud wallow is an essential. But, perhaps the most important requisite for elephants is space. In elephant terms, space is the freedom to roam far and wide by day with their human family, just as they would in the wild with their elephant family. Lente was told that she shouldn’t assign only one person to work with Jabulani, as elephants tend to bond very strongly with their caregivers and pine dreadfully if that person leaves. She and her staff followed all these instructions with much love and patience, and with the assistance of the hand-raised sheep Skaap who acted as a surrogate mother to keep Jabulani company in his enclosure at night. Jabulani thrived and grew into a fine young elephant.
When Skaap was found dead in the sleeping enclosure one morning – possibly because her charge cuddled too close, Lente decided that it was time to prepare Jabulani for reintroduced to the wild. As he couldn’t yet take care of himself, a caretaker was assigned to look after him and keep him company. Jabulani and his caretaker Flippie spent 24 hours in each other’s company: they walked together – up to 20 kilometres a day, romped together in rivers and dams, ate together – albeit different diets and huddled close, took afternoon naps in the shade. Flippie was armed at all times as Jabulani faced the constant danger of falling prey to lions. All too soon the little calf grew into a five-year-old bull and it became imperative to find him a family of his own kind. An introduction to a herd of wild elephants on Kapama when he was two had been unsuccessful. Jabulani far preferred the company of his human friends to that of his own kind. He thought of himself as one of us, though in reality he needed his own kind. A unique opportunity to give Jabulani a family of his own arose when Lente learnt about a special herd of twelve trained elephants in Zimbabwe whose lives were in jeopardy. The game farm on which the elephants were located had been invaded by war veterans and their lives, as well as those of their handlers and owners were at stake.
A massive rescue mission was launched in March 2002 as Zimbabwe was preparing for an election and was successfully completed just two days before the election. All twelve elephants were purchased by Lente and, together were their keepers, relocated to the Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa.
We were more than a bit anxious on the day Jabulani was introduced to the herd. To our great relief the matriarch Tokwe immediately adopted Jabulani as her own. Jabulani has become part of this close family. He’s their mascot, and their affection for him is obvious, though they don’t let him get too cheeky!
Today the herd consists of 13 full-grown elephants accommodated at Camp Jabulani on the Kapama Game Reserve and used for the elephant-back safaris available here. Camp Jabulani is the first to offer a luxury elephant experience in South Africa
The little orphaned elephant has not only enriched the lives of all who have met him, but – against all odds – survived the perils of the wild and embraced a new and strange life by accepting us, his human family, wholeheartedly. To this day, he is a resolute, somewhat stubborn, yet highly spirited creature and the kinship and similarity between him and his saviour Lente Roode is evident to all who know and spend time with them.
Jabulani has entertained numerous tourists with his antics, he has stood quietly and listened intently to what royal guests have whispered in his ear and he has become a sought-after media celebrity, both locally and internationally. But above all, he was the inspiration for Camp Jabulani which was named after him as a tribute to his perseverance in the face of adversity. Today he is a full grown, beautiful elephant bull that leads with pride and confidence.
To make a booking at the 5 star Camp Jabulani in South Africa, contact the Team at Adventure World NZ: 0800 2338 368 | AU: 1300 295 049.