Little Blessings & a Whole Lot of Work – Lockdown Life at Jabulani & HERD
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” – Charles Dickens.
The COVID-19 Lockdown has brought tremendous challenges. Financially, keeping our lodge, herd and team going during a global standstill has seemed impossible much of the time. And yet, constantly, we wake up to a new day, with new energy and new hands stepping in to help in different ways. Through donations and fostering, through the media, and through hard work on the ground. Lockdown Life at Jabulani has been all the better and brighter due to our incredible Lockdown Crew, consisting of team members from both Jabulani and HERD, who came together, voluntarily, to assist in the daily demands of running a lodge on a skeleton staff contingent, with financial and physical restrictions.
Whose who in the crew?
This Crew has included elephant carers and both Elephant Managers, Tigere and Owen, Adine and her daughter, Lente, and son, Xander, and his girlfriend, Armani, and friend, Freddie. It has included Jabulani GM Stefan and Chantel and their young daughter, Megan. It has included Head Ranger, Ruan, Executive Chef, Dylan, and Head Sous Chef, Zandrie, Operations Manager, Schalk, Senior Curator at HERD, Juan, Spa therapist, Shaoneal, and Jabulani friend and South African documentary maker, Hermien.
A thriving team of helpers who have crossed over roles, taking on completely new tasks, like bana grass harvesting, branch and dung collections, stable cleaning, anti-poaching patrols, fence fixing, helping clean and sterilize the orphanage, and the very important gradual integration of Khanyisa into the Jabulani Herd. Adine has even tried her hand at fixing water pumps, pulling out 60 meter pipes to find the problem.
As much as it has taken away, this Lockdown time has also given us so much. The team on the ground have enjoyed truly memorable quality time together, getting to know each other in whole new ways, and strengthening the spirit of our team at Jabulani and HERD. We have been able to really focus on Khanyisa, the very special albino orphan in the care of HERD, and to dedicate more time to her integration and to slow it down, to space it out, elephant by elephant. There is no doubt that this has contributed to the success so far of the integration and to the essential well-being of Khanyisa and the herd. These have been our blessings.
We’ve had incredible wildlife sightings, from crocodiles slipping into the water to leopard cubs in the night, great flocks of vultures and beautiful bee eaters and rollers to lions watching their prideland. We’ve enjoyed beautiful sunsets and watching the herd in their daily swims and walks with Khanyisa. And we’ve been inspired, constantly, by the elephants and their special personalities that remind us that we’re not alone.
Lockdown has shaken our worlds and our idea of the present and future but also taught us more than ever about how courageous and persevering we can be when we put our minds to it! Like Khanyisa! Like the Lockdown Crew shoveling dung and getting down on hands and knees to scrub the stables. It has taught us about the kindness of people around the world, who check in with us on social media, respond to our requests for donations, and selflessly step up to foster the elephants in this magnificent herd. What a powerful combination! Hard work, hope and selfless kindness!
Here’s a look at Lockdown Life in the reserve:
Bana grass collecting
Bana grass is in high demand in the Jabulani stables – elephants simply ravish these tall and robust grasses. Our plantation features rows of this quick and easy-to-grow grass, which we harvest row by row, systemically, to ensure each row can regenerate. Bana grass is very itchy for us humans while harvesting, but as long as the herd is happy! We have had a team of between three and seven people helping with bana grass and branch chopping every day, working for around three hours.
The Lockdown Crew has also had to head into town to buy lucerne for the elephants and have been cutting and collecting branches from the bush, again in a planned manner, to provide the elephants with another favorite snack. You may have seen Jabulani recently ambling away from the herd while out foraging, following his trunk to where Adine’s son, Xander and his friend and our Lockdown helper, Freddie were collecting branches and piling them into their bakkie. It was a rather nerve-wracking experience for Freddie, but greatly fruitful for Jabulani.
The elephant stables where the rescued Jabulani herd sleep at night, in peace and protection from wild animals and predators, requires a deep clean once a week, and daily cleaning. Before Lockdown, we had a dedicated team of nine that only cleaned the stables, from 7 am to 4 pm, including lunch and tea breaks. During Lockdown, we have had between two to five people helping to clean the stables – again, entirely out of their own free will and kindness.
We have been using two tractors for collecting dung from the elephants’ stables each day, dung that is used mostly for compost. We add the dung together with “worm tea” from our Wormery (which also uses dung) to the compost, to fetilise the gardens around the lodge and orphanage, and the bana grass plantation. We also use dung to feed little Khanyisa (only a ball or two now), and to potentially supply local farmers.
During Lockdown, two of our four tractors have broken down. Since we have been unable to repair or replace them, during Lockdown restrictions, the team have been creative in using a vehicle to pull a trailer to help move the daily dung load.
On Patrol – Anti-Poaching & Security
With some of the members in our team staying on at the lodge during Lockdown, they have not only replaced their chef or GM or ranger duties with cleaning and feeding, but also patrols. They have been assisting the anti-poaching unit in the Kapama Private Game Reserve where our lodge is based, with nightly patrols to ensure the continued protection of our wildlife and people. The men even shaved their heads to get into the mood for the dangerous yet vital role. Although they gave other reasons for their new bald looks… The team have also been helping with the upkeep of the fences around our reserve to maintain their excellent standards for security's sake.
We have also been taking advantage of the quiet period without guests to flatten the roads in the reserve. By dragging tyres behind a tractor, we are able to flatten the bumps and ruts and keep the dirt road in a good condition.
All in all, as we focus on the positives and keep on keeping on, we are so grateful for the smiles, laughs, dedication and kindness of our Lockdown Crew! Carers, GMs, chefs, Elephant Managers, spa therapists, family… you have all made Lockdown a happier experience than we could have ever imagined.