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