All over Africa, elephants are threatened by poaching or habitat destruction. As the mother elephant is often killed in these conflicts, the baby elephant can not survive on its own. When a rescued orphan elephant comes into the orphanage, it is traumatised and in many cases dehydrated, sunburnt and possibly injured.

Because of their high intelligence and complexity, they are very different to your usual wild animal. Their needs are diverse and nuanced and require a special kind of management, one with heart and soul and respect as well as milk and medicine.

Therefore a baby elephant orphanage is of great importance for the future elephants to survive.

HERD is South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage, founded in April 2019 by Adine Roode.

With the growing numbers of orphans and displaced elephant calves in recent years, as a result of increasing numbers of poaching of elephant mothers as well as man vs. elephant land conflict, Adine Roode, MD and owner of the Jabulani Herd, took the step to build a dedicated elephant orphanage to provide a unique adoptive family structure for baby elephants in need.

HERD strives to care for and rehabilitate orphaned elephants, to give them a new family and a second chance of life with the Jabulani Herd.

The orphanage is located on the grounds of Jabulani in Kapama Game Reserve, next to the Krugerpark, purposely built near to the barns of the Jabulani herd for them to easily assess and integrate each baby elephant according to their individual emotional needs.

The unusual family structure of the Jabulani herd, the majority of which are orphans themselves, presents a unique solution for orphaned baby elephants in Southern Africa that vitally need to find a second herd to ensure their emotional wellbeing and survival. Unlike wild elephant herds, the neighbouring Jabulani herd have graciously accepted orphan elephant calves into their family.

The Orphanage consists of three individual nurseries with five communal areas that adjoin them; a kitchenette, a storeroom, a bathroom as well as indoor and outdoor playgrounds for the baby elephants.

HERD Key Objectives and Principles

To recognise and accept the responsibility for taking care of animals on behalf of broader society, and to acknowledge society’s wish for and expectation of the protection and enhancement of vulnerable animals’ quality of life, which is planned and sustained for their full lives, you need a lot of expertise and knowledge. You must be able:

  • To provide a safe rehabilitation alternative for elephant orphans that prioritises the long-term well-being of the elephants.
  • To provide a protected and supportive environment for the rescued Jabulani herd that promotes and enhances their overall well-being through rewilding (as much as possible) and understanding the ongoing need to provide direct care and supervision for their lifetime.
  • To take advantage of the availability of a habituated wild elephant herd, the Jabulani herd, which provides a stable and controlled environment and elephant social system into which orphan elephants can be reintegrated for their enhanced lifetime wellbeing.
  • To reintegrate the orphans into the habituated Jabulani elephant herd and/or other appropriate rehabilitation options that may become available in the future.
  • To establish a strategy and long-term plan for elephant rehabilitation through rewilding that includes ways to mitigate the long-term chronic stress of releasing elephants directly into the wild when, as orphans, they don’t have a proper social structure. The focus is on building the orphans’ ability to deal with a wild system independently, in such a way that allows them to develop that capacity at a reasonable pace, and within a stable and nurturing system. Thus, the rewilding of captive elephants that takes elephant biology and local context into account.
  • To base our processes and procedures on the best available evidence and expertise, find innovative solutions to the challenges faced to enhance the elephants’ well-being, and, thereby, be the go-to entity in South Africa to rehabilitate orphan elephants.
  • To lead in the development and the best practice for sustainable, long-term, orphan elephant rehabilitation, and contribute to the development of ethical and responsible industry standards, and the development of norms and standards that are credible, a credited, endorsed by stakeholders, and set a gold standard.
  • Contribute towards the conservation value of elephants in a holistic way, by providing land to a flagship species that is not otherwise available. The conservation value lies not only in the conservation of the species, but promoting natural capital and natural land use for the benefit of people, while providing a safe rehabilitation context, and a sanctuary for partially rewilded elephants over their lifespan.
  • Develop and leverage the potential role of elephants in contributing to local development, in the context of the sustainable development goals, including sustaining life on land, improving social cohesion, enhancing environmental and natural resource education on the reserve and in local schools, reducing poverty through employment and economic development of SMMEs associated with the elephants in their context, reducing gender inequality and broader inequality through the empowerment of women, youth and the poor and disadvantaged, through our operations and our broader footprint outside the reserve.
  • Take a holistic approach to leveraging elephant goods (including dung) and services (including ecotourism, cultural value, existence value), that ensures the sustainability of the land-use and protection of the elephants on the reserve, but that also provides access with tenure to the local community to enhance the broader value of the current land-use relative to other options.
  • Expanding career opportunities and building a career path for elephant carers, as a critical resource for natural capital enhancement.
  • To provide opportunity for research and student training to enhance our knowledge and capacity for sustainable development.

In addition to these objectives, there are several principles that will determine our approach in the short and long terms.

Key rules for all strategies, planning and actions taken at HERD

  1. In the short and long-term, the key focus is the rehabilitation and rewilding of elephants.
  2. For this to occur, attention must be on the social and sentient nature of elephants, their longevity, and the need for their learning and social development to take place in a protective, nurturing and safe context and environment. We acknowledge the importance of social learning, bonding and role building for orphans by creating a novel system of responsibly wilding or reintegrating elephants.
  3. It is unethical to release orphans into the wild without allowing them an opportunity to develop a robust social decision-making and behavioural system, within a structured support system, which people can, and have an obligation to, provide.
  4. To mitigate the impact of hand-raising and caring for orphan elephants, and the effect of this on the orphan, the herd into which they are introduced, and society as a whole, we must create sustainable, responsible and transparent mechanisms, which engage with broader society, to ensure the overall well-being of the elephants.
  5. This operation must be ethical, accredited and credible, with a fully constituted ethics committee and an advisory committee with the appropriate expertise.
  6. As animals are under the custodianship of people and the value of elephants exists for all of humanity, it is necessary to take on a custodianship role on behalf of broader society, and to ensure that people know the animals are being well-protected and supported in an ethical way, thereby enhancing global humaneness and humanity.
  7. As a species, we have a collective responsibility to ensure the protection of orphaned elephants throughout their lives. We must build and maintain a long-term strategy for rewilding orphan elephants that enhances wellbeing, and takes into consideration their longevity.
  8. We must enhance and expand the contribution of elephants to human social and economic development, and human livelihoods and well-being, especially locally.
  9. Do not cause unnecessary suffering or harm.
  10. There is no breeding of captive elephants.
  11. New orphans increase the well-being of the Jabulani elephant herd – the emotional well-being and behaviour – by improving the social structure of the herd, and providing the conditions for natural social interactions and processes. While the introduction of calves can play a positive role in of the Jabulani herd, the herd also provides the most humane way to reintegrate orphans into elephant society that is available.
  12. There is no promotion of the removal of any babies from the wild.
  13. It is not the first choice to take in captive elephants considering the risks posed by the complex social nature of elephants.
  14. There are clear and specific criteria for taking in orphans for rehabilitation, such as when orphans are the direct consequence of human interference and human-created problems, such as poaching of their mother. Elephants are only accepted as a result of confiscation, donation or rescue.
  15. All orphans accepted are approved by official government agencies and are properly permitted.
  16. We do not promote or drive the operation as a way to create a market for orphans. Orphans are accepted in their own interests, and, as such, do not to have any resale value.
  17. The Jabulani herd were rescued from a perilous situation and are being provided with a protected and comfortable environment that meets their biological and social requirements, within the limitations of being a previously tamed herd.
  18. We are committed to the Jabulani herd and ensuring their well-being for their natural lives.