By Adine Roode, HERD Founder
Having spent many years growing up in the wilderness of my family’s reserve, Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa, my passion for wildlife and their welfare was instilled from a very young age. I was around wildlife since childhood, and spent much time rehabilitating and integrating orphaned rhinos and elephants in later life. I have developed my own unique way of understanding and connecting with these animals on a deeper, intuitive level.
The elephants have shaped the woman I am today.
1. Learn from your surroundings. Grow where you’re planted.
Never take for granted where you’ve come from in life. Look for the beauty in it and you will find it. My passion for conservation was born through childhood experiences and later years spent working at my mother, Lente’s rehabilitation facility, Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC). Here my focus was on rehabilitating and reintegrating rhino and elephant orphans, giving me experiences that would change my life’s path. My mother built the lodge, Jabulani in the Kapama reserve, back in 2004, as a way to financially support the elephant herd she rescued from Zimbabwe (and little orphan Jabulani). When I took over the lodge as owner in 2014, the elephants became my responsibility too. Looking after them and their journey, together with our team of carers and elephant manager, Tigere Matipedza, has been my life calling.
2. Leverage your intuition. Let the heart and mind work together.
People close to me often joke that I must be an elephant myself. Perhaps that’s because I spend so much time with them, and have started to think like them. Perhaps I was always like them, and that’s what drew us together. I am a practical person and I value science and rationale, but I also have a heart full of compassion, intuition, love and loyalty. I feel. And it’s this that has allowed me to understand the elephants and especially the orphans who have endured so much trauma. In the conservation field, people don’t like you to feel too much, or for your emotion to spill out. But how can you talk about an elephant without an understanding of the depths they feel and perceive?
3. Rally your herd. You may be one person, but you don’t need to walk alone.
I founded HERD in 2019, as South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage. I had a dream to merge the work I had been doing with orphans at HESC, with the Jabulani herd, to offer better support to the new calves, with their own species helping to raise them. I built my team and relied heavily on help from people in my corner. Sometimes they laughed at me or told me it couldn’t be done. That can happen a lot. But the good ones stuck by me and we remain in this together.
4. Spread the sunshine. Give people a sense of purpose.
Today, HERD Trust offers a beacon of hope and is a pioneering step for South Africa and elephant conservation in the country. Khanyisa and our work at HERD has helped inspire people around the world and given them joy and purpose, day after day, through the ways we share the elephants’ journeys online. It started with me capturing the moments of Khanyisa’s initial rehabilitation and integration on video, using my camera phone during the COVID Lockdown. We shared these on YouTube and other social media forms, reaching a bigger and bigger audience each week. People fell in love with the stories and messages of the elephants and how they made them feel. If we can inspire someone, give them something to look forward to, show them an alternate way to life, then we are walking the right road.
5. You’re never too old or experienced to learn something new
I have learnt so much from the elephants over the years, and when it comes to raising orphan calves or my own children, I have often turned to Tokwe, the herd matriarch. With her infinite knowledge and deep understanding of what it takes to raise a baby, she is always teaching me. We have a special relationship, mother to mother, female to female. I go to her when I need advice or guidance, which may sound weird. But over the years, you start to form a special language with the elephants. I have learnt to read her. All the elephants in our rescued herd have something to teach us, each exhibiting their own individual personality and strengths.
6. Harness courage. Life will constantly test you. It’s up to you to show up.
Just as one challenge is conquered, another rears its head. Life is full of obstacles to an easy path but I’ve learnt to accept the rocky road and to face it with courage, rather than fear. I watch how the elephants react to a threat. They huddle together, they stand strong and tall, spread out their ears to make themselves look bigger, they protect the vulnerable amongst them, and boy do they make a noise! They announce to outsiders, “We are here and we’re not going anywhere.” It may rattle them inside, especially nervous elephants like Kumbura or Setombe, but they don’t back down. I’m inspired by that resilience and I try to practice it until it becomes a habit.
7. Support women. Be proud of your femaleness.
Being a woman in a male-dominated field, or world, remember that you offer something different, something vital, powerful. Outline for yourself what makes you proud to be a woman. Become conscious of it, and stand up for it, in the workplace, in society, in your home. Matriarchal elephant herds are led by the cows and supported by allomothers. Females do much of the work needed to keep the herd safe, sustained and happy. In our rescued herd, it’s often the cows who will chase away intruders or threats, such as wild elephants or other wildlife. Each cow has their own character, they are not one and the same. So too with us. But we can still come together as one and support each other.
Over the years, I’ve found my voice as a woman sometimes disregarded. At times I’ve remained quiet or changed my approach to fit into male-dominated power struggles and conversations. This is so dangerous, as it silences women. I’m working harder now to celebrate women, in our community, in our team, in the media, in our herd. My daughter is studying to be a doctor and she will need a loud, strong voice to make sure she is heard and respected. I want to be a role model for her and for other young ladies. Tokwe, Lundi, Setombe, Bubi… the older cows in our herd have been that role model for me. We need to keep inspiring and empowering new generations whichever way we can.