By Kay Trotman
This is the story of three wild and orphaned elephants, and their dangerous journey across the savannah from South Africa to Botswana in the Okavango Delta. It is the story of Marula, Thembi and Jabu. When I met them, it was at Stanley Camp in Botswana, while on safari. I didn’t know I was going to have this encounter, so it was a delightful surprise.
However, as I was to find out, the story started long before that! This safari adventure was arranged by a popular New York based agency that promotes tourism to Africa. In conjunction with the Botswana Tourist Board they arranged this safari for travel agents as a way of familiarizing travel agents with the destination. It was, by far, the best travel experience I have had the pleasure and opportunity to take.
The program affectionately called “Walk with the Elephants” allowed visitors to get up close and personal with three elephants Marula, Thembi and Jabu. These elephants were being raised by ‘foster’ parents Doug and Sandi Groves. The elephants were wild and became unruly after seeing the culling operation of their entire families in an effort to reduce the number of elephants in the parks of Africa. In a word, these three elephants became ‘juvenile delinquents’ and were destined to also be part of the next culling operation had it not been for the intervention of Doug and Sandi Groves.
A Few Facts about Elephants
The African Elephant is the largest of the species. Ears are large and fan-like. It has pads of fibrous tissue to cushion toe bones. Patterns are taught from one generation to the next about the migration pattern. Elephants survive in forest, bush or savannah. They eat enormously and are highly destructive, uprooting trees, tearing off branches, and eating plants.
The gestation period for elephants is approximately 22 months. Adolescence occurs at 12 to 14 years of age. Most of their physical growth is reached by the time they are 20years old, but their growth continues throughout life. An elephant’s top mental ability is at age 30 to 45. Death comes at 65 to 70 years of age when the last set of teeth wear out.
A human brain at birth is 26% of adult weight, and the elephant’s is 35% of adult weight. These statistics are used to distinguish instinctive from learned behavior, and are examples of higher intelligence. Ears are also used to control body temperature; blood circulating through the large vessels in the ears is cooled by flapping. Poaching for ivory has been a big problem. Birth weight is 175 to 250 pounds.
Marula, Thembi and Jabu
The guide led us to a clearing in the Plains where we met up with Doug and Sandi. Though alone with no elephants in sight, Doug began to tell the group about how he came to be in Botswana and how they became foster parents to the elephants we were about to meet. As he called them in one by one, Marula, come, Thembi come, Jabu, come, each one walked in waving their trunks in the air, each the star of the show. But this was no show. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but one look at these gigantic creatures, I knew the experience would far exceeded anything I could ever have imagined.
These elephants were wild. Used to human contact from Doug and Sandi, they have become more docile, but by no means are they tame. The feed in the wild, they cannot survive in the wild as they would not fit in with other wild elephants. Elephants are tremendously community oriented, who live in groups. They don’t generally accept ‘orphaned’ elephants.
When one elephant is in trouble, the others in the group will help. When one is happy, the others share in the happiness. When one leaves or dies, the others feel the sadness. Fortunately, these three are a team who has wonderful loving foster parents to care for them. Their journey to get to this final destination has been long, difficult and challenging.
As we drew closer to these wonderful and exciting creatures, we were able to really get a feeling of how big they truly are. Touching them was surreal. On some, their skin was rough, on some, it was quite smooth. Even the souls of their feet that always appears calloused and hard, are gentle to the touch, soft and cushiony to hold the tremendous weight of this beautiful and magnificent creature.
The Story Behind the Story
Learn how these elephants came to live with Doug and Sandi and know the story of how they adopted the elephants is a story all its own. The true nature of their story is awe inspiring filled with courage and fortitude. The experience of walking down a path, holding an elephant’s trunk is an adventure that one can only appreciate by visiting Stanley Camp and sharing this treasured opportunity with Doug and Sandi. The extended version of this story is shown on the VHS tape ‘A Herd of Their Own’. It is a moving story of love and courage, of people and elephants.