Green Globe Trekker: Little Elephant that Could

Today on Green Globe Trekker: JP gets a lesson in the Power of One from a little South African elephant-hero named Jabulani.

Camp Jabulani Lounge

Several years ago I found myself in the midst of an elephant herd in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, part of a TV series I was producing for Condé Nast Traveler.  I was so mesmerized by the tender and sweet familial interaction of the giant animals, that we turned off the cameras, not wanting to interrupt their routine—or more importantly trigger big Mama’s protective instinctive over her babies.  It’s one of those powerful moments that stays with you for a lifetime.

Given the economic power of South Africa’s safari tourism industry, it’s no surprise then that innovative lodges, like the one I staid in Ulusaaba, are perennial favorites in the category of Wildlife Preservation in the Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Awards.  But this year’s winner, Camp Jabulani, has a particularly sweet “birth” story involving a lost little elephant that went onto become the “breadwinner” for a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center.

The wildlife center helps rehabilitate cheetahs

Adine Roode, Managing Director, of the property will be on the panel I am moderating on Oct. 20 called “To Preserve and Protect” at the Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Congress in Singpore.  She managed to take some time away from the bush to speak with me about how much she and her family and employees have learned about the importance of wildlife preservation.

“Thirteen years ago, an injured baby elephant came to our rehabilitation center, and we hand raised and tried to release him on reserve.  And it didn’t work.  He wanted to stay with the humans who were now his herd.  And then 8 years ago, we had the opportunity to rescue some other elephants, endangered by war.  When we brought them here from Zimbabwe—no easy task—our little elephant Jabulani took to them immediately.  It was beautiful.  Taking care of elephants is quite a heavy burden.  So we decided to build a separate camp around the elephants to generate income to support them–as well as our cheetah program.  And so Camp Jabulani was born.”

Much of the time we think of wildlife as being endangered by poachers and farmers, but this case was even more complicated.

“War instability was a part of the problem.  Zimbabwe war veterans took over the land there, and they were demolishing the land for the food.  They wanted to destroy the elephants.  We stepped in and brought them to South Africa.  It was a very tight schedule and complicated operation—no video or photos because the war veterans were quite tense.  The whole thing was controversial—a lot of people do say that there are enough elephants—why bring them over?  People say, ‘why don’t you just shoot the animals?  It’s easy to talk a lot, but you have to stand before that animal and make a decision.  And it’s not easy.  It’s difficult.  I have a passion and wherever there’s life, I will still fight for that.”

Today, the benefits of that fight are comng to life.  Camp Jabulani operates 2 safaris a day with the elephants, even though it would have easier to send Jabulani to one of the many zoos that initially wanted him.

“I love seeing Jabulani happy and a have a chance to have a herd.  An elephant doesn’t want to be on its own.  It wants a herd structure.  And that’s what we provided.  It’s funny, it’s supposed to be that humans must take of the earth and animals.  But here, the animals take care of humans—generating incomes for all the families here.”

Even the waste of the elephants is put to use in creating jobs.

“We use elephant dung paper.  And we sell that paper.  It’s part of the job creation—we have a lot of elephant dung but we’re able to put people to work to make it useful to us in so many ways.   I take that paper all over the world making sales calls because people can’t believe it when they smell it.  It’s part of the education program for schools and children to teach them about recycling how to make these things.”

The outreach to the local community doesn’t just stop at an education program.  Real decisions made on the property help create even more employment opportunities.

“Take for example on the reserve.  There are a lot of easier ways to do bush clearing, but we think it’s better to get farm workers and dig manually, that way you feed a family.  There are easier ways with machines that could do the work but at end of day you have to support the local community.”

Adine hopes her passion and enthusiasm spreads far beyond her reserve’s borders.

“It’s important to realize that one person can make a difference.  There are no boundaries for a person—everyone can make a difference.  Like now, we are bringing in the schools and locals, to educate them.  Once they see a cheetah in our endangered species program, they understand more.  The importance of wildlife becomes part of their daily life.”

And to think it all started with the power of one little elephant—who’s now a World Saver.

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