January 2024

By Adine Roode

We started little elephant bull, Phabeni’s integration phase by getting him used to some of the elephants in the rescued herd, first through the fence at the bottom of the garden and then trunk-to-trunk. The fence surrounding the orphanage protects the orphans and keeps out unwanted visitors, but it also helps with the introductions, as the elephants on either side are able to get to know one another, and their unfamiliar smells and sounds, in a less intimidating setting.

Older bull, Jabulani, also once an orphan himself, spent many mornings with Phabeni during the months of December and January, standing at the fence daily for about an hour or so. Jabulani is as calm as a millipede, which makes him a great elder for our little ones to be around. He is not overly eager, like some of the elephants in the herd, and doesn’t reach out to claim a new arrival with an octopus grip. He is composed and collected and has a massive impact on the emotions of the little orphans.

Phabeni showed huge interest in Jabulani during these morning visits, but he would also take a moment here and there to lie down for a nap under the reeds, while Jabulani stood close by on the other side of the fence. There were times when the little bull stuck his minute trunk out to Jabulani – barely reaching the other side of the fence, never mind Jabulani himself. But his purpose was less to touch, and more to smell and listen to him and the elephants in the background. This helped Phabeni get to know the herd slowly, so that he would not be overwhelmed by their presence when the time came to meet them trunk-on.

The day came when we felt ready to introduce Phabeni to Jabulani without the fence. We felt that both elephants were ready for this brave new step. That morning, we called out to Phabeni in the orphanage garden. The little calf looked uncertain at the bottom of his garden as Jabulani did not stop at the fence to spend time with him. He came as we called him and followed the path from his little corner den, through the open orphanage gate and then through the big swing gate to the homestead where Jabulani was feeding. What an amazing moment to see him approaching the giant bull, knowing Jabulani had once been that little orphan too, a little bull waiting to be accepted.

Phabeni walked to Jabulani, with us, his human herd, following. He didn’t blink, stop or hesitate for even an instant. He stopped about a metre from Jabulani and pulled a bana grass leaf toward himself to munch on. The two elephants stood like that for a minute or five before Phabeni stretched out his trunk to Jabulani. Jabulani reached his trunk out too, smelling in Phabeni’s direction, acknowledging him. 

That was it. No trumpeting Just a peaceful meeting.

He may not have needed it, but as his carers, we reached out to Phabeni here and there, to touch and comfort him, to let him know that we were there and that we had his back. He happily kept feeding on the bana grass beside Jabulani, flapping his ears, stroking his own legs with his trunk. 

I decided to move to Jabulani’s other side and called Phabeni, who followed me and walked over to all of us – Tigere, Stavros, George and myself – smelling, greeting, and acknowledging. He was so tiny next to Jabulani’s lean tall muscular stature. The only sign of stress from Phabeni was a loose dung, which we wiped with grass. 

The little bull spent some time with us, humans, and it seemed as though he was thinking, “Is this it? Where are the others?” He was ready for more! We took the chance to get Phabeni familiar with Tigere and George while we were gathered there since he hadn’t spent much time with these carers.

I walked underneath Jabulani, calling Phabeni but he had no interest in following, so Tigere took game pellets to lure him to walk underneath the bigger bull. It took some time but eventually Phabeni crossed to the other side, underneath Jabulani, like a small rowing boat moving underneath the San Francisco bridge. It is thought that a calf’s age can be estimated to be less than one year if he can stand underneath his mother, but Jabulani is a tall bull. Phabeni stands at about three quarters of the height underneath Jabulani’s middle section.

We all stood with the elephants, relaxed and waiting to see what might happen. Phabeni entertained himself by twirling a stick in his trunk and swinging it up and down while flapping his ears. There was no rush. Everyone was simply comfortable with each other. 

As Jabulani decided to move towards the gate of the homestead, Phabeni followed. Phabeni smelled Jabulani and left us behind, while he followed quickly after him. It was time for a milk bottle, time for Phabeni to return to the orphanage. Jabulani walked over to the orphanage garden with Phabeni, dropping him off at the gate. The little bull turned around and wanted to follow Jabulani, but once he smelled his bottle and started to drink, he was quickly unaware of Jabulani and the bigger bull left again. Lammie and Spotty joined Phabeni, giving him company and comraderie, not with his own species, but certainly more his own size.

This was the first morning of introductions and we were pleased to see that over the rest of the day, Phabeni showed no signs of stress, and drank all of his milk bottles. What a little champion!

You can help us to support Phabeni by donating to HERD Trust or adopting the little orphan here >

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