Mambo has been giving our carers a hard time now during marula season, as he keeps heading off in search of marulas far and wide, leaving his herd without a word. As a bull of juvenile age, he also sees himself as a big bull and wants to rise in hierarchy, which he tries to do by challenging elephants in his own herd. He might also be seeking out other elephants now to challenge so he can work on his status. Mambo has a very distinctive mischievous nature, and has tried a disappearance act before! Watch that video here >
On a recent weekend, Mambo had been feeding with bulls Jabulani and Somopane and suddenly simply disappeared. The carers could not find him anywhere, since the rain had washed away his footprints. What followed was three days of searching!
It all started on Saturday afternoon, when we received a message from Tigere to say that Mambo was missing. Mambo had managed to break away and go on what was to be a most exciting mini adventure. A message came in around 17h30 to confirm that Mambo was definitely no longer with the herd. Tigere, knowing there was little time for searching left as sunset was not too far off, headed out to look for him with carer Shepherd, in the hopes that he would not be too far away. You must be wondering, how do you lose an elephant? The fact of the matter is, very easily.
The foot of an elephant is rather flat. It consists of toes and a large pad that is similar to a human’s heel. This pad helps to spread out and reduce the pressure on its foot when it walks. It also acts as a “shock absorber”, which allows elephants to move quietly.
There are also wild elephants in our reserve, in addition to the rescued herd in our care, adding many more footprints to the mix across the bush. With the heavy rainfall we’ve been experiencing though, not even footprints could guide us to Mambo.
Being the teenager he is, Mambo is always looking for a new adventure. Whether he went off marula hunting or followed the scent or footprints still visible of the wild elephants, Mambo decided he was going on a walkabout.
By 19h30 on Saturday, we called off the search for Mambo for the day, as it was too dark, hoping that he would return on his own the following day.
Sunday and Monday were much the same. Our searches were hampered by the excessive storms which we were experiencing throughout the day and night.
While searching for Mambo, we would literally find one track and start following up on it and the footprints would just disappear as though they were never even there. Between Tigere, Shepherd and the team, we spent two whole days driving up and down trying to pick up some kind of idea of where Mambo may have gone. We relied heavily on game drives in the reserve in the mornings and afternoons – with each group listening for sightings of elephants in order to go out and see if one was perhaps Mambo.
Around 16h00 on Monday afternoon, we received a message from a safari vehicle in our reserve saying they had seen who they thought may be Mambo close to their lodge. We wasted no time getting over to where they had called in the sighting, only to find that, although 80% identical to Mambo in size and build, it was unfortunately not him.
In all that happened over these days of looking for Mambo, we have come to learn that there are four young bulls on the reserve which are almost identical to Mambo in terms of ear notches or holes and body size – even their tusks are around the same length. But with Tigere and Jason, one of the long-time Jabulani lodge guides, helping us to look – we knew the elephant we were looking for. When Tigere saw the bull which was called in, he explained that the notch in the ear was lower down than the notch on Mambo and that the tusks pointed more upwards compared to Mambo’s tusks, which are straighter and have less of a curve to them.
On Tuesday morning around 10h00, Adine communicated that she had organised a helicopter pilot based in Hoedspruit and that he would be landing in about 10 minutes. We set the plan in action – the helicopter would go up, identify Mambo, and a ground crew would then be sent in with the carers to hopefully walk him back. Of course, sometimes nothing goes to according to plan. Although we had an entire plan worked out and everyone involved knew exactly what needed to be done, Mambo had another plan in mind.
Ten minutes after take off, a call came in from the chopper to say they had managed to locate Mambo. We headed out with the carers who would be responsible for guiding Mambo back to HERD. Once the team was on the scene, the helicopter retuned to the homestead and Tigere exited the chopper, shouted, “I am going to help the guys on the ground” – and jumped in his bakkie and went straight to where they had located Mambo. Now this is where everything went a little chaotic. In the meantime, the carers had managed to relax Mambo a little, as the helicopter had unsettled him. Finally Mambo started to calm down, but he must have realised at this point that the helicopter was now gone and that the wild elephants he had been with were still close enough for him to get to without much difficulty. He turned tail and ran in the opposite direction from our carers. The helicopter went up once more to try and relocate Mambo. They returned to the area where he had been and saw a similar bull in the same area. This turned out not to be Mambo. Tigere had managed to find him, however, quite a way further to the south of the dam close to the homestead.
Once the helicopter arrived back at the homestead again, they informed us that they would have to leave, as they were assisting another reserve to relocate lions which had managed to escape due to the heavy rains and a damaged fence.
Adine communicated that wildlife vet Dr Peter Rogers was on his way out to the reserve, as she was unfortunately not able to be here herself and he would be needed to ensure Mambo’s safe return. Dr Rogers then arrived and we waited for a second helicopter to arrive from Hoedspruit. After discussions with Dr Rogers, it was decided that the “plan” would be to isolate Mambo from the other elephants he was with and then dart him. Once darted, the herd would be brought over to him in order to assist with him waking up and also to assist with keeping him relaxed. Once with the herd, he would not be as stressed as he would be without them around.
Dr Rogers and Jason left in the helicopter. Shepherd left with a back-up vehicle to carry all the necessary supplies like chainsaws in case Mambo landed in a difficult to reach spot, and water to cool him down, as it had become very hot with the sun coming out around 12h00.
Once they managed to separate Mambo, the plan was put into action. Dr Rogers darted him from the helicopter, and they stayed close by him to make sure they would be able to relay the exact location of Mambo for the ground crew to get to him. Tigere quickly caught up with the ground crew, as he had been maintaining a safe distance from Mambo leading up to the helicopter and darting. Once Mambo was down, the team moved in to ensure he was lying correctly and could breathe without any problems.
From here, Tigere and the rest of the carers put the second part of the plan into action and slowly brought the herd into the area, making sure they were all close enough so that when the reversal drug was given and Mambo was awake and back on his feet, he would be surrounded by family. Due to the heat, Shepherd ensured Mambo was kept wet and cool while we waited for the elephants to get there.
In a matter of minutes, Mambo was back on his feet. Gentle rumbles from everyone around him settled him very quickly – we were relieved that Mambo was back with his herd. Everyone involved in the operation moved back and allowed the carers and the herd to ensure Mambo moved away from where the helicopter had landed. Once they were far enough away and Tigere was sure that Mambo would be okay with the helicopter starting up, he gave the go-ahead for the ops team to move out of the area. Dr Rogers returned to the homestead while Mambo, the carers and the herd remained in the bush with Tigere.
Mambo remained with his herd for the entire way back home. That evening, around 17h45, it was confirmed that Mambo was back in the homestead after what had been a long day for everyone involved. The relief was felt by all, knowing he was back safely.
We would like to thank the helicopter pilots, Jerry and Juane, for their assistance and expert flying skills. You both made it look so easy to locate Mambo. Dr Rogers and his assistant, Janel – thank you so much for taking the time to come and assist as on such short notice. To the Jabulani guides, thank you for assisting us in searching for Mambo and also in trying to relocate him. Tigere and all of the carers, what incredible team work from everyone, thank you. Adine was instrumental with organisation and communications throughout the day, arranging for the helicopters and Dr Rogers.