“You know, they say an elephant never forgets. But what they don’t tell you is that you never forget an elephant.” – Bill Murray in the film, Larger Than Life
I remember the elephant’s ears, waving outward to make him seem much larger than he was. Although, let’s not beat around the bush (that’s an elephant’s job), he was large, very large. Frighteningly so. The dust beneath him even tried to flee his gait. As he stamped the earth it rose up around him and fluttered to freedom on the back of the wind. It was the game vehicle that carried us away, quickly, but not too quickly. We were here for him, after all.
This was Chobe in Botswana, home to more elephants than anywhere else in the world. Moments like this, flapping elephant ears and trumpeting trunks and flying dust are all part of the landscape – as are the calmer moments. I remember these moments best.
The languid amble of the herd through the low waters of Botswana’s Selinda spillway during a trip to Zarafa Camp. Their tiny eyes giving us a once-over, but not for long. We were perhaps not as interesting to them as they were to us.
Above: Royal Chundu
Their grand arrival at the banks of the Zambezi River at Royal Chundu one late afternoon, their swims in the shallow stretches late into the night. I had to remind myself to breathe. Between steadying the camera and the stream of question marks taking over my consciousness. Do elephants breathe through their trunks or mouths? I wondered. Can they see me? Do they see colours? Can they hear me? Do they hear the same sounds I hear?
I remember their games. Their light hearts in spite of their heavy bodies. Their Samurai stick shows half-submerged in the waterhole at Camp Jabulani – how much they reminded me of the the herd in Madikwe, at Morkuru Family. I remember how they carried my own body across the wilderness of Kapama. I remember the sensation of rocking back and forth as though in the arms of my mother. How do they not rock themselves to sleep?
I remember nothing but elephants as we took the Landrover out one morning at Londolozi in the Sabi Sand of South Africa. The air was still cold and you could see the steam escape our breath as we greeted them. Hello! We exclaimed, at maybe fifteen or twenty of them, as they continued breakfasting on bushveld. For how else do you greet an elephant? Silence, perhaps. You listen and you feel. I tried silence and I listened and I felt. And I never forgot.
I remember their different faces, their moods, their homes, how they made me feel. Because time spent with elephants is never neutral. It is never the fragment of an experience left out of your memory as the brain tries to prioritise what it holds onto.
They say an elephant never forgets. But what they don’t tell you is that you never forget an elephant.
It is true that in many places around the world elephants are cruelly treated for the practice of elephant-back riding. It is true that many trainers abuse the animals in order to get them to do as they command. It is a sad and unnecessary fact. But we have found a place that will make you rethink the entire way you perceive elephant-back riding.
Please take a moment to listen. Have an open mind. Imagine this place. Camp Jabulani, a home for orphaned elephants, where elephant-back safaris are executed in the most humane of manners and as a means to ensure the animals’ survival.
Camp Jabulani is a safari lodge with heart. A kind heart. And having met the owners, Lente (Founder) and her daughter Adine Roode (Managing Director), it is clear where that heart originates. For Lente, animals are everything. Their well-being is of the highest importance to her – something she has passed on to Adine.
We, Relais & Châteaux Africa, speak from experience. We have been on our own elephant-back safari at Camp Jabulani, the most intimate and memorable of experiences. We have viewed the animals’ stables, watched them splashing together in the dam and spent quality time with the incredible handlers. Men who, just like the elephants, have travelled from Zimbabwe to Camp Jabulani for a better life. We stand behind the rides, the way Lente and Adine stand firmly, kindly, behind their family of elephants. Discover why in our 10 points below.
Should you still need convincing, visit Camp Jabulani. Decide for yourself but decide, based on knowledge and first-hand experience.
10 Reasons We Support Elephant-Back Safaris At Camp Jabulani
1. A Home For Elephants
Every elephant in the Camp Jabulani herd arrived at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) in need of human intervention. HESC, founded by Lente, focuses on the conservation of rare, vulnerable or endangered animals.
Jabulani was found injured, severely dehydrated and orphaned, after being abandoned by his herd. The remaining elephants were living on a farm in Zimbabwe where they faced an untimely end. They too were orphans, due to culling, and were already trained for elephant back safari operations. Their owner’s farm was in the process of being expropriated by war veterans, and they were tagged for their meat. (Read more.)
After rescuing the elephants, Lente and her team could not release them back into the wild to live as wild animals. To do so would be abandonment. To prevent this, Camp Jabulani accepted responsibility as the herd’s custodian.
“Where would we be without this herd of elephants?” Asks Lente. “Two days will stand out in my mind as long as I live. The day that Jabulani arrived as a tiny baby – terrified and on the brink of death. And the day that the rest of the herd arrived and welcomed Jabulani as one of their own. One of my greatest achievements has been having the privilege of helping these beautiful animals!”
2. Supporting Conservation
Generating profit was never the goal, looking after elephants was. The costs involved, however, are high, and have to be covered even over the quiet seasons. This includes food, housing, groomsmen and veterinary care. The owners have taken up this task and are only able to do so through the tourism revenue that the lodge and rides enable.
3. Adults Only
Only six of the elephants in the herd are used for elephant back safaris, including Jabulani, Lundi, Tokwe, Somapani, Setombe and Sebakwe. The babies born during their care at Camp Jabulani are never ridden, but have been integrated in to the herd behaviorally. They are free to remain with their mothers at all times.
The five baby elephants born at the lodge are a sure sign that these gentle giants are happy (they will not breed if traumatised and stressed).
5. Time Off
Safaris are conducted twice a day. – one hour in the morning and one hour in the late afternoon. For the rest of the day, the elephants are allowed to forage in the wild, in an environment simulating what they would experience naturally.
6. Humane Training Methods
The elephants are trained by a reward system rather than forcing authority through physical abuse. Lente established an elephant advisory committee consisting of veterinary surgeons and other experts in the field in a quest to ensure that everything possible is done to ensure their well-being.
In the evenings, the herd is kept in stables (“probably the best in the world”) with plenty of food and water. Camp Jabulani recently finished upgrading the stables in a massive operation, in line with the animal’s personal preference and to allow for greater freedom of movement both inside and out.
Above: Lente Roode
8. Lente and Adine Roode
The Roode Family has a long legacy in eco-tourism and nature conservation. Adine’s father, Johann, pioneered the transformation of Kapama from a reserve focused on hunting safaris, to one focused on photographic safaris.
Both Lente and Adine, Camp Jabulani’s Managing Director, care so much about the elephants under their care, as well as the animals at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) they founded. HESC is one of South Africa’s leading conservation bodies which rehabilitates and houses orphaned, endangered and vulnerable animal species.
above: Adine (left) and her daughter, many moons ago (right)
9. The proof is in their accolades…
Camp Jabulani has received many awards for its conservation efforts, from the Relais & Châteaux Passion Trophy to the Conde Nast Traveler World Savers Award – as a result of Camp Jabulani’s commitment to the environment through sustainable energy and recycling policies, extensive educational programmes for staff and local communities and various pioneering conservation programmes.
Adine said, ‘We are genuinely thrilled that efforts to look after our environment and the community by Camp Jabulani have been recognised by such a prestigious award. However, I must honour my Mother, Lente Roode, whose mission has always been about the conservation of rare, vulnerable or endangered animals. Without her incredible commitment to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre and her firm belief that ‘The Power of One is Boundless’ – or simply, one person can make a difference – Camp Jabulani and the positive ripple effects created as a result, would not exist.’
10. Above all else, the will of the elephant is always respected
“If you work in nature, it is so much easier to feel and see a difference in what you produce. And it touches a very special place that I cannot possibly define! It also has ripple effects beyond just me and my immediate environment – this is really rewarding to know that I have been a part of something good and right.” – Adine Roode
Into The Wilderness With Camp Jabulani
Watch the elephants at play at Camp Jabulani in our latest video:
Nothing inspires us more than everyday individuals doing extraordinary things. It’s our fuel, like music to Muddy Waters, words (and women) to Henry Miller… It’s something we’ve purposely showcased in our 10 Questions series, in an attempt to give a voice to these personalities, to highlight the unique adventures the people of our continent have made of their lives and to inspire others to do the same.
What are they up to now, you ask? Well, along with saving the world, the wild world, they sat down with Ellen DeGeneres to discuss their latest documentary, “Soul of the Elephant”.
“The reason we just did a film called Soul of the Elephant for PBS,” Dereck explained in an article on the Huffington Post, “was to highlight exactly what we might be losing if we actually lose these animals, the richness of what they can lead us to. It is ironic that at the moment we agree to sign into law the protection of elephants, they reveal something to us that may even help us understand cancer in our own species more.”
“We wanted to do a film about the soul of the elephant, the soul we will lose if this slaughter keeps going.”
– Dereck Joubert
The incredible international exposure the Ellen Show and the film itself has garnered for the world’s elephants makes us superbly proud to be affiliated with the Jouberts and their Great Plains Conservation.
Venturing to their camps, where the soul of the elephant can be experienced first-hand, helps to support the pair’s conservation initiatives and the survival of not only Africa’s elephants but big cats and rhinos and other endangered wild animals as well. Three of our favourite include Zarafa Camp in Botswana and Ol Donyo and Mara Plains in Kenya.
Watch a sneak peak of the film below, as a baby elephant, only days old, chases birds on the African savanna and learns how to solicit milk from his mother.
As to whether elephants have souls, Dereck relayed an encounter at a screening of the film:
“Someone came up to me and asked: ‘Do elephants really have souls?’
I looked at him and considered my chances of getting into an argument over this. We were in Utah – Mormon country and I’m a little shaky on those beliefs on souls, but then launched into a case for elephants souls, the only thing I feel strongly about.
‘If you tell me humans have souls then there is a good chance elephants may have as well.’
He smiled and shook my hand and said: ‘I agree. I’m Buddhist.'”
In an interview at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, where the film was shown as part of the Elephant Conservation Summit, Dereck spoke of the filming process when it comes elephants: “We probably shot 120 hours of footage. You can do a film on lions with much less, but with elephants you have to wait and wait for something to happen.”
“We had to take on their energy,” added Beverly. “They taught us to zone in and be more meditative and reflective and live a more peaceful existence with them. Looking at their nature, their personalities, you understand they are so much like us and we are so much like them, the compassion and the altruism and I think that’s what drew us in.”
“I have no doubt at all that elephants are at least as intelligent as an adolescent human being. They’re incredibly smart. They have knowledge and wisdom about their own culture and societies that are far more advanced than we think.” – Dereck Joubert