Girl meets Elephant:
a Jabulani love story

The story of the camp Jabulani is one of love and hope. Tamlin Wightman discovers a deep connection in an unusual place: with a herd of rescued elephants in the wilderness of South Africa.

Girl meets Elephant: | a Jabulani love story

The story of the camp Jabulani is one of love and hope. Tamlin Wightman discovers a deep connection in an unusual place: with a herd of rescued elephants in the wilderness of South Africa.

The story of Jabulani is one of love and hope. Of people who fight the odds, who are never ready to call it a day. The ones for whom the great human drive for survival extends beyond their personal experience to encompass the natural world around them. They understand the harmony of it all, how much the entire system of natural life in Africa balances on the presence of species such as elephant, lion, and rhino.

So much more than a safari lodge, Jabulani in South Africa was born of the need to give a herd of rescued elephants a future.

Driving with Adine Roode, owner of Jabulani, through the Kapama Reserve, I asked her, “What do you say when people tell you there’s no point? That poaching will see an end to these animals in the not-so-distant future. That we don’t stand a chance.”

“I say, we can’t do nothing,” she replied. And it’s as simple and significant as that. This is the driving force behind this elephant sanctuary in the wilderness. And it is a force of love and hope.

“Although it was originally born solely of the need to create a self-sustaining home for a herd of orphaned elephants, it has evolved into an African wildlife sanctuary for the Big 5 and other animals,” says Adine. But the elephants are at the heart of it all. And I had to meet them. I had heard about how powerful the interaction with them here was, man and elephant meeting one another on equal terms. But I wasn’t quite prepared.

On an afternoon out in the reserve, the elephant keepers approached with the herd beside them. We climbed out of our game vehicle and walked over to the meeting place. The keepers have spent many years with these animals, on walks through the wild, protecting them while they forage. They are part of the herd.

I walk up to Jabulani and feel it instantly. The height, the strength, the life. I take a handful of pellets from the keeper with one hand and raise my other hand to signal to Jabulani to lift up. Open wide. Say, ahhhh. I slip him his snacks and he takes them with ease. His trunk searches me for more: my arms, my back, my thighs. He rests his trunk on the log on the ground between us and I reach my hand out to feel the hairs on the edges, the wrinkled skin, the heat emanating from the tip. He curls his trunk around my hand and everything falls silent.

I know there are others wanting to meet this gentle giant. I know there are people wanting to photograph him without me in their shot. I know that, in the not-so-far-off distance, there is a buffalo walking about and a giraffe drinking from the dam, and sundowner drinks are awaiting us, but everything is silent and I cannot move. I am connected. Plugged into the animal heart in front of me, unplugged from the world outside.

I understand Adine so much in that moment. The deep bond she has with these animals. What she means when she talks about them as though they are her children, each with their own unique personality. I understand the energy behind Jabulani – the kind that says, "we can’t do nothing".

On another afternoon, sitting in our open safari vehicle, we watch the herd swimming in one of the dams, rolling about together in the cool water, turning and tossing sticks with their trunks, splashing and spraying joyously.

Later, we follow after them on foot through the wild, with a guide, elephant keeper and ranger beside us. We stand in awe as they head to the stables for the night as Tigere Matipedza, the Elephant Manager explains the stable layout, how it is cleaned daily and how the elephants are gathered based on their individual preferences.

Spending moments like this with the elephants, in the peace of the bush, their natural habitat, you see it, you feel it. The harmony. Everything as it should be: the animals, the trees and bushes, and man, doing his and her best to safeguard it all.

 

Pictures: © Tamlin Wightman

 

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