The Myriad Moments of Wild Magic at Camp Jabulani

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Time spent in the presence of Africa’s wild animals changes you with each sighting. While witnessing the bonds within a herd, pack or pride, a wobbly elephant nuzzling its mother, a rhino offering its horn to scratch the itch of a brother, wild dogs curled up together, nose to rear, like a patchwork quilt… While watching the human condition applied to the animal kingdom; the same urges and needs playing out across the wilderness. Anger, love, hunger, thirst, jealousy, desire…

Every new sniff, sound and sight opens the world up to you a little more. You poke your little pangolin head out of its burrow and the world looks brighter and more alive.

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But I’m not sure we’d be able to make much sense of it all without some kind of guide. The kind of guide known as the Ranger. The star maps to our day and night skies. While time spent with wild animals changes us as people, I have found my time beside the trackers and rangers of the bush just as vital to my growth, as both human and safarigoer.

One such ranger, Ruan Roos, inspires us not only on the ground (or in the game vehicle) at Camp Jabulani, but also through his photography, through his talent for capturing the myriad moments of wild magic in the Kapama Private Game Reserve of South Africa.

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Through the lens of his Canon 7D Mark II lens, he reveals a love not only for the Big 5, but also the smaller, curiouser characters. Below is a glimpse into the world of Ruan Roos, South African, Field Guide, Conservationist, Amateur Photographer (his description… we think you’ll agree amateur isn’t quite the right word.)

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Elephants utilizing the last light of the day.

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When the light touches your face and you feel its warm embrace.

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End of a glorious day in the lowveld.

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Rain rolling in over the lowveld.

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This Must Be The Place. This Must Be The Zambezi.

Mokoro on the Zambezi

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place

– Talking Heads

We all have a place. A simple name on a map that we have traced with our fingers more often than any other name. A place in the country or city, the sea or river, jungle or forest, a place of snow or sand, water or rock. A place that has, over the years and the holidays, taken on a sort of humanity, an intimacy, a nature beyond how most of us see, well, nature. It’s not uncommon, either, for such places, these special enclaves that pull on our hearts a little more than others, to be seen as something living, something more like a friend, like family. The Whanganui River in New Zealand and the Yamuna and Ganges rivers in India, for instance, were granted human status and named “living entities” this year. By law.

But it isn’t only for their significance, their sensitivity, their vulnerability and their beauty (all qualities seen in the best of people), that we hold them close. It is also the time we have spent with them, getting to know them. The days and nights spent as witness to their different sides and moods, their ups and downs.

Royal Chundu

We all have a place that we have bonded with more than any other, that we understand more than another, and for me that place is the Zambezi. A river no less human than the Whanganui or Yamuna or Ganges. A river no different to you and I. An individual that breathes, that ebbs and flows with nature, and that needs protection.

Of course, the Zambezi is vast and I am not familiar with it all. It is the fourth-longest river in Africa and the largest river flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. It passes through six countries on the way, a true adventurer at heart. Its journey begins in north-west Zambia, in a marshy black wetland in the centre of the Miombo Woodlands, and continues on through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. If you can, imagine 1,390,000 square kilometres, slightly less than half the basin of the Nile, and you will start to grasp its immensity.

Royal Chundu

I’ve played in the lower Zambezi, while white-water rafting over rapids ranging from Grade III to Grade V – the highest commercial grading possible. Rapids with names like The Devil’s Toilet Bowl, The Gnashing Jaws of Death, Morning Glory, Oblivion, and The Ugly Stepsisters. I have helicoptered through the deep gorge, over the great Victoria Falls itself, and swum in the tiny natural infinity pools on the edge of the cascade – both Devil’s and Angel’s Pool. But it is the upper stretches of the river, before it tumbles over the Falls, that I know best. In particular, those private 15 kilometres of waterway flowing past Royal Chundu in the district of Katombora.

Royal Chundu Elephants

Of course, those 15 kilometres cover a body of water that is always flowing, always changing. I never quite meet the same river. But here, hugged by the same riverbank as always, its essence never changes. It feeds and is a home to the same life – the elephant herds, the hippo pods, the tiger fish and parrot fish and bream, the crocodiles, the African skimmers, African Fish Eagle, Rock Pratincoles and Schalow’s Turaco, the water buck, otters, baboons, buffalo, zebras, and even the occasional leopard and lion. Its sunsets and rises are a constant as are its channels, rising or dropping in level perhaps from time to time, but reliable in their permanence, letting us navigate the river better, more closely, and cautiously.

This is my place. And over the years I have come to not only know but to feel deeply for the people in and around Royal Chundu. The local people who understand the Zambezi much more than me, who teach me, with each visit, not only more about the water, the wildlife, the birdlife and the plants, but about compassion, patience, loyalty, respect and resilience. Those human qualities that I don’t doubt the Zambezi played a hand in refining.


And while our human laws may not (yet) recognise this incredible life force as a living entity deserving of human status, there is another source watching over it, protecting it day in and out. A source with the head of a fish and the body of a snake. A source know as the Nyami Nyami, the great guardian and God of the Zambezi River Valley. One of the most important deities of the Tsonga people, the Nyami Nyami and his wife are said to be the God and Goddess of the underworld, living in the Kariba Gorge.

Royal Chundu Elephants 2

Discover more about our love of the Zambezi in our blogs:

The Making of an Explorer on the Zambezi

Parrot Fishing on the Yemen. Pardon. The Zambezi

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Cheers to the Rose-Coloured Glasses of Life

The Butterfly Effect – A Q&A with Tina Aponte

How to Start the Day on the Zambezi

Zambezi Cruising

The New Elephant Experience at Camp Jabulani

Elephants at Camp Jabulani 2

We have always supported the elephant-back safaris at Camp Jabulani, because we know from our own experience how well the elephants are treated, how much a part of the family they are considered – not only Jabulani (the original, the namesake, the elder), but the whole herd. Jabulani’s ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, a herd connected not entirely by blood, but through bonds created and deepened through time spent playing, eating, walking, washing, sleeping and playing (some more) together.

The herd is always by each other’s side. Just as the founders of Camp Jabulani, Lente and Adine Roode, have been beside the herd’s over the years. Just as the team of handlers are, daily. Because that is what it means to be family, and, “We must take care of our families wherever we find them,” as Elizabeth Gilbert writes.

Since Camp Jabulani, in the Kapama Private Game Reserve of South Africa, is just as much a part of our Relais & Châteaux Africa family, we similarly support their decision to, as of the first of this month, no longer include elephant rides in the Elephant Experience at the lodge. It is a move the lodge calls, “the most profoundly significant change in our history,” and one that still welcomes travellers to visit and connect with the animals in a respectful but uniquely intimate way.

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The new Elephant Experience is more of an interactive and observational one, where visitors will have the opportunity to meet the elephants and see them close-up, learning more about their behaviour, their unique character traits, their incredible story, and what is takes to take care of a herd of this size. Much of this will take place while the elephants are in their natural environment, foraging in the bush, walking through the reserve or swimming in the waterhole. There will also be plenty of opportunity to photograph the elephants in close proximity.


Timisa’s introduction to the Jabulani elephant herd was a momentous occasion, for both man and elephant. The herd’s thunderous trumpeting evoked such deep emotions, that all who were present had goosebumps and choked back tears. What a noble way for little Timisa to be received into this family!

Posted by Camp Jabulani on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

In their words… “The increasing international pressure against elephant-back safaris, because of the abusive way in which a proportion of the animals are sadly trained (in many parts of the world), prompted this decision. Based on our approach to animal welfare issues, we are in agreement with the negative sentiments relevant to abusive methods of training.

“The well being of the Camp Jabulani elephant herd has always been at the forefront of the operation. Those who have visited us will know that our elephants spend most of their day in the open on the Big Five Kapama Private Game Reserve under the close supervision of the grooms (letting them roam free would invite the risk of potential conflict with wild elephant herds on the reserve).”

Elephants at Camp Jabulani 1

“Our model of training has always been based on positive re-enforcement, and no animal in our care has ever been physically or spiritually abused in any way. We abhor any practice that removes an animal from the wild for the purpose of commercial gain, as well as the harmful treatment of any living being. We are thankful that the world is acquiring a greater respect for the animal kingdom, and we pledge our support in being part of the changes that we all wish to see. Looking after this group of elephants was a responsibility that we accepted from the very beginning, and it is a commitment that we have no intention of forfeiting.”

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How the Camp Jabulani herd came to be

Camp Jabulani’s twelve elephants, all of which had been left orphaned after culling operations in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, were trained for elephant-back safaris on a commercial farm in Zimbabwe from which they were rescued in 2002 at the time of a highly unstable political situation in the country.

At the expense of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), a massive rescue operation was planned in a matter of days, and all twelve elephants were relocated to South Africa. Stables were built in record time (the cost of which was also covered by HESC), and the elephants were moved into their new home. The groomsmen who took care of them in Zimbabwe were also relocated, and their jobs kept secure as they once again became the elephants’ primary caregivers.

Camp Jabulani 1

“We built Camp Jabulani, and structured its unique offering around the elephants in order to sustain them and keep them alive. The elephant-back safaris were put in place as a continuation of what they had been trained to do in Zimbabwe. From the beginning, we worked closely with an advisory committee of veterinary specialists who guided us in respect of training the elephants, sustaining their emotional and physical well-being, and assessing which of the animals were to be used for elephant-back safaris (only six of the herd of fourteen participate in the safaris).”

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“Camp Jabulani’s proudest achievement doesn’t only lie in the successful rescue of a herd of orphaned elephants in 1996 from strife-torn Zimbabwe, nor in the the intensive rehabilitation of tiny elephant calf, Jabulani (who is also the namesake of the herd). Our success rather lies in our dedicated 20-year journey through which invaluable experience has been gained, enabling us to evolve and refine a successful model of rescued elephant care, with specific focus on infant rehabilitation.”

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“The unique background of the rescued elephants resulted in the establishment of a positive atypical family structure for the Jabulani herd. There are strong ties between both male and female animals, and clearly established matriarchs have assumed responsibility for all infants – their own (five babies were born to the herd), as well as new orphans. A number of babies have arrived over the last five years, and they’ve been successfully introduced to the herd with minimal human intervention.

“We’ve come to realize that the Jabulani rescued elephants themselves are the perfect solution, and have plans into the future to continue to help to rescue and rehabilitate elephants in need. And this is ultimately our purpose.”

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To find out more about the evolved Camp Jabulani Elephant Experience, simply e-mail the lodge at