How Trees Heal People / From the Wilds of Londolozi

Written by Amy Attenborough of the Londolozi Media Team, who also has immense field-guiding experience at the lodge. Published first here.

Where trees breathe
New life is born
Where each branch reaches out to me
I know myself held in the arms of purest generosity
Where the leaves fall I am blessed with a giving back
that nourishes the roots of my soul
For the trees reflect who and how I can be
Standing tall, true, honest and undeniably me
Unafraid to love, to give, to share and to bend
So I bless the forests
As I learn from them

~ Clare Dubois

I’ve always had a rather bizarre affinity for trees. Growing up I didn’t speak much about it though. The only people that seemed to connect with trees were somewhat unfairly labelled as ‘greenies’ or ‘tree huggers’ and I wasn’t sure I fitted into a label. I thought maybe I liked trees more than other children because I had an aunt who took me under her botany wing and shared her immense knowledge with me from a very young age. Then one day I just decided that I didn’t need a reason to love them. I accepted that I was just a kind of tree architecture enthusiast; someone who admired their design, their towering beauty and most importantly, the way they made me feel.

This was until I heard about ‘forest bathing’.

Japanese forest bathing, also called shinrin-yoku, literally means “taking in the forest atmosphere”. In Japan, there is an entire sub-culture based around spending time with trees. What’s more is that this seemingly simple activity has been scientifically proven to improve health. In 1982 the Japanese Government actually introduced a national health programme based on it, with far reaching effects. All it requires is quiet contemplation around the trees.

The ‘aim’ of the walk is not to exercise or hike but rather to take a gentle, mindful stroll through your natural surrounds and to be open to the full experience of the forest, allowing all your senses to be engaged. If needs be, find a spot that feels good to rest in and allow yourself to be awed. This gentle practice is yet another access tool to greater mindfulness and an example of the healing modalities that the west is slowly adopting from the east.

It sounds simple because it is but the health benefits are huge. Trees actually emit an oil, called phytoncides, as protection from germs and insects, and these oils are proven to help our immune systems. These organic compounds that the trees give off support our “NK” (natural killer) cells. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumour formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention.

Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of these NK cells in the immune system before and after exposure to forests. In her 2009 study, Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.

Time in these forests also proved to lower heart and blood pressure levels, reduced stress hormones, reduced levels of depression and increased physical energy.

John Muir wrote, “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” And now we know why… People literally get better just by being amongst trees.

So the next time you feel more lured to sit in the shade of an ancient Mahogany rather than tracking down a leopard, or taking a wander through your nearest park instead of visiting the downtown coffee shop, know that there’s nothing strange about you. You’re possibly doing the very best thing you can for yourself, your health and your well-being. There is a part of every single one of us that feels at home in nature, so allow yourself to go home every once in a while.

 

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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The New Elephant Experience at Camp Jabulani

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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).”

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“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.

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“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 mari@campjabulani.com.