5 June 2024

This World Environment Day, we are excited to share with you a look at the environment at HERD. HERD Elephant Orphanage and Homestead is set in a big 5 private nature reserve in Hoedspruit in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Our land is teeming with wild animals such as buffalo, rhino, hippo, wild elephants, leopard lion, hyena, giraffe, zebra, impala, you name it. It is a second home for the elephants in our care, one that they have adopted as their own and one that they roam from sunrise to sunset. The elephants walk vast distances in their reserve each day – usually between 10 and 20 kilometres. This includes time spent walking and feeding, visiting water holes to drink or swim, resting under trees, eating fallen fruit, sparring and playing, and showering in the sand and mud. This home needs protection just like the herd does.

Part of our work at HERD includes restoring the land and in particular the areas frequented by our elephants, to ensure that it is sustainable and able to regenerate despite the movement of the herd and humans. We have a holistic environmental management plan that includes grass restoration projects that we work on all year. Each season brings its own challenges in the bush. In the winter there is little to no rainfall and so the dams often dry up, making water management vital. Not only do the dams provide for our herd but for all the animals in our reserve. In the summer, heavy rainfall can mean erosion, so maintaining our roads is important and something that we do frequently, often utilising leftover elephant feed and dung to prevent erosion. Maintaining trees is also vital. They provide not only food for animals but also shade and shelter in the wild.

Elephants are considered ecosystem engineers, sculpting the landscape they move through and creating microhabitats for smaller mammals and invertebrates as well as facilitating much-needed plant diversity. They often push over and uproot trees and these decomposing trees, in turn, create a new habitat for small mammals and thousands of insect species. Elephants strip trees of their bark – after which the tree usually dies. In these ways, they clear areas that are overgrown with thick strands of encroaching small trees, making these areas more accessible to other animals. During this clearing event, the surface of soil will be littered with small branches. These scattered branches, along with the elephant dung, create a microhabitat ideal for seed germination. As elephants travel, they spread seeds all over, often introducing much-needed plant diversity in previously mismanaged areas. Elephants are a big part of the reason that we see vast and open landscapes filled with perennial grass communities and large trees dotting this landscape.

Our Environmental Management Plan works to rehabilitate affected areas in the reserve and protect them from degradation. It includes: techniques for combatting large erosion networks to prevent the loss of valuable topsoil, planning and revising road networks and associated infrastructure, and techniques that will revive the basal grass layer essential for ecosystem well-being. It includes strategies to protect too many existing large trees from being pushed over by the herd. The remaining community of large trees is critical for the functioning of core ecosystem services such as the hydrological cycle, pollination, micro-habitats for smaller members of the ecosystem and simply, to shade animals from the sun. We are working to create an environment that can truly sustain not only our herd but also every other member of this complex and ever-changing ecosystem.


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  1. A sustainable elephant herd needs a sustainable home. And a sustainable home needs a sustainable income. It’s a fact. Thank you so much for settling my mind about how I can contribute; since I discovered the amazing HERD family, I have been dithering about how I can help! This amazing, informative video has greatly helped me decide that the best for me is to make a monthly donation and HERD will use it where it’s needed. There is so much more I could write! Warmest thanks, love and respect to you all, for all you are doing; you are just incredible!

Help Save Our Vulnerable Gentle Giants

We rely on incredible people like you to keep us going. Every cent counts, and no contribution is too small. HERD relies on public funding to cover the operational costs to care for and support elephant orphans and the rescued herd, so we really appreciate your support.