African elephants have a very complex family structure. It’s a cooperation between all the females. Usually the cows are all related, but in our Jabulani herd, the older females are not linked by blood. All the females still care for the young and they do so together. They share the responsibility of looking after the little ones. It’s quite complex for us to understand, but for elephants, it’s a very natural relationship. It is extremely important for our Jabulani herd to have these multiple mothers in order to benefit from this beautiful network of support.

Tokwe is the epitome of a good mother.

As the Matriarch, she’s an amazing mother to all little ones. Even if she’s not the real mother, she is really caring. And not only of the elephants but also humans, in the way that she has protected me in several situations in the past. I really value her Mothership and I learn a lot from her as a mother myself.

From left to right: Tokwe, her daughter Pisa, her adoptive daughter Timisa, and her daughter Limpopo.

One of the allomothers who played a huge role in Khanyisa’s life is Kumbura.

We all have somebody that plays a huge role in our lives, that supports us, that you actually can describe as being as close as a mother even if they aren’t. These females were very important to us.

Studies have shown that in African elephant herds, where there are allomothers, the rate of elephants babies that survive actually increases, because of the valuable role that allomothers play. Through the allomothers, the babies learn a lot, not only what to feed on, but how to feed and where, they learn about what is important. Our allomothers in the Jabulani herd are extremely important. We’ve seen that in Khanyisa’s life.

With elephant orphans, there’s a huge value in having allomothers play a role in the little ones’ lives, so that the calves are not only dependent on humans, but on a structure of females. Limpopo, Klaserie, Bubi, Tokwe, all of them play a huge role in the orphans’ lives.

Kumbura and Khanyisa in 2020

Kumbura will sometimes feed a distance away from Khanyisa and every now and then, she will pop in to keep an eye on the calf, to see where she is. She’s a lovely elephant. A little skittish around people, she doesn’t trust people easily, but she’s an amazing older sister to the little elephants, including Timisa and Khanyisa.

Klaserie was the second baby born to the herd after Limpopo.

She was actually born during the time that I was away from the reserve and when I got back, I went to the bush. I hadn’t met Klaserie yet, and Setombe came out to show me her calf and introduce me to Klaserie as a little baby. In a way, Klaserie is very special to me. She is always very inquisitive. She’ll come and smell me when she sees me. She also helps to look after Khanyisa from time to time, and seemed to really step into this allomother role for the first time with the calf. She doesn’t yet know how to help a baby feed from her and suckle, but in time she will gain that knowledge with practice.

Klaserie (right) and her mother, Setombe.

Steombe is the oldest of all the females in the herd

The biggest and oldest, even though she isn’t the Matriarch. She loves her daughter, Klaserie and always stays close to her. She will follow Klaserie wherever she goes. I also call her the mother of discipline, as she’s the one that will first discipline the boys. For a long time, she was in line in the hierarchy with the bulls, but as the bulls got bigger, they took over and she stopped pursuing her title. She’s still the elephant who is first to step in and discipline the bulls. Discipline plays a huge role in our lives. If you look at discipline in schools, if there’s no discipline there’s no respect. But discipline also needs to be done in a way that’s filled with love. You also need to use discipline to create a better future for younger generations. Setombe really is very valuable in that. She assists the Matriarch in that regard. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a few females to raise a good solid elephant and to make a steady herd and family.

Khanyisa and Lundi in 2020

Lundi is a very peaceful, down to earth elephant.

She was the first female that I brought in to introduce Khanyisa to. She is such a calm elephant but also very protective. And she is the true epitome of a feeding machine. She loves eating. Lundi certainly has her hands full with her teenage boy, Mambo but she adores him, and with her soft heart, I think he gets away with a lot of things. She will always back her boy, Mambo. She’s really a very good mother and she plays a major role in the herd. I don’t think she has any problem with anyone in the herd. She’s not a fighter. She has a lot of wisdom and is one of the most important females looking after not only the babies but also the rest of the herd. She is caring, very intelligent and an amazing female to have as part of the motherhood in the Jabulani herd.

Bubi is the mother of Zindoga, and also an amazing mother to the little ones.

She took on Kumbura first, then Timisa and then Khanyisa. Bubi is affectionate and attentive with small elephants who need that extra care. When she cares for a young elephant, she always stays close to them, but whenever a new baby comes in and she starts to bond with the new baby, she actually breaks her bond with the previous baby, which is quite strange. She really breaks that bond by hurting the other baby. She once had a friend that she was very close to, when she was still young and she lost the friend. I don’t know if that might be the reason that she’s scared to love too many, too many elephants, too many people. She’s also not very keen on me, but not one of the carers have ever had a problem with her. I’m not sure if it’s based on females or me as an individual, because we also lost the orphan Shawu, and perhaps she thinks it’s maybe my fault that Shawu passed away. When the orphan was sick, Dr Rogers came in to assist and sedated him and he passed away. It was very sudden and not expected, and I was there. I’m not sure if that’s the reason. It’s not that Bubi really talks to me and explains her feelings to me, so that we can work through it. But I really respect her for who she is and for the role she plays in the herd.

Bubi is also a rather solitary elephant and doesn’t get on with the other females. But she really plays a role in caring for the babies and she adores and loves her son. They stay close together and she always knows where he is. A mother always stays a mother.

Thank you for being mothers with us, and mothers to our babies!

You can help us to support the mothers of the herd by adopting them and contributing to their care:

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