In May 2016 the decision was taken to completely phase out elephant-back safaris and by 1 April 2017, The Elephant Experience at Camp Jabulani will no longer include elephant rides.
The increasing international pressure against elephant-back safaris, because of the abusive way in which a proportion of the animals are sadly trained, 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.
It is important however, to understand the origin of the Camp Jabulani elephant herd. 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 keepers who took care of them in Zimbabwe were also relocated, and their jobs kept secure as they once again became the elephants’ primary caregivers. 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 wellbeing, 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).
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 keepers (letting them roam free would invite the risk of potential conflict with wild elephant herds on the reserve). We have tried to provide an environment as close to a natural one as possible, without forgetting the very real captive circumstances surrounding their upbringing which have defined them.
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.
We have walked a long road with these elephants. As with anything in life, it is not about the destination, but about the journey. As with life, we need to be flexible during times of change. We have adapted our management plan to phase out elephant-back rides, but will retain other forms of interaction with the elephants to create public awareness of the plight of these animals – particularly where and when they have to be sustained in captivity. 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.
The Elephant Experience has now evolved into an interactive and observational one, where visitors will have the opportunity to meet the elephants as well as view them in close proximity, learning more about their behavior, 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. Photographic opportunities in close proximity of the elephants will also be afforded.