Rambo, Rachel and Rogan were three teenage ellies purchased from the Tuli Block (Botswana) in the early 90’s after a cull. They were relocated to a private reserve next door to Phinda in KZN, where they lived happily and were treated like wild ellies.
One day Rogan broke through our northern fence into Mkuze game reserve where he mixed with other wild ellies, but he never really lost his connection with humans. Unfortunately, as he matured and his musth (a heightened state of testosterone levels in the bloodstream and a condition which renders elephant bulls really aggressive as they seek out females in oestrous – on heat) cycles started, he became a little too boisterous, and some KZN Parks Board ranger decided he was too “dangerous”, so he tragically terminated Rogan’s life!
In 2003, Rachel and Rambo started to become a little too familiar with people, and after a series of “far-too-close-for-comfort” experiences, such as taking out a rear window of a vehicle, stabbing a tusk through a Jet Ranger helicopter, pushing a game viewing vehicle into the dam etc. These two were sold to another reserve on the western side of the N2, but still roughly in our same area in northern KZN, where they were given some really kind and experienced Zimbabwean and Malawian “mahout” handlers, who took really good care of them.
These days, only when Rambo and Rachel feel like it (never against their wishes) they meet guests in a secure enclosure, allowing the guests the very special opportunity to feed and stroke them, under the careful surveillance of their mahout handlers. Of course this is only if the guests feel brave enough!
Four years ago, Rambo and Rachel became the proud parents of Jabulani, a very playful calf who doesn’t know his own strength! The three of them have pretty much free run of a very large and beautiful wilderness area, which is home to the Big Seven (lions, ellies, buffalo, leopard and white rhino, as well as cheetah and black rhino). They go where they please and mix with all the animals doing just what all ellies love to do… Eat, wander around and be happy.
The mahouts do not carry any weapons as they are fiercely protected by all three. Jabulani is especially hard on lions and loves chasing them to keep everyone safe. There is a very special bond between these ellies and their mahouts who follow them 24/7. In fact, a problem arose when one mahout went on leave. Rachel particularly became very sad and would go to the mahout’s house every morning and wait outside his door for several hours for him to join the group, but he was away in Malawi on leave. At that stage they employed a few more mahouts, so there would always be a mahout per ellie at all times.
I can assure you all that if ever there was a case of semi-wild ellies being happy in a reserve area, this can be described as a rare example of success. Nobody said it was perfect, but it is a pretty good second best and it keeps three ellies very happy. Strangely, Rambo, being a huge male, does not run as a bull alone. He stays permanently with Rachel and their calf throughout the year. The three are absolutely inseparable and again, a surprising difference to what wild ellies would do in the wilderness.
I stood under that great head and spoke quietly to him. He just seemed to know that it must have been someone who he knew once upon a time and he behaved like a true gentleman.