Have you ever wondered where the elephants stay at night? During the day, the elephants spend their time in the wilderness with their carers, but at night you can find them at their homestead. Here are the answers to all the questions you may have about the homestead.
Where is the homestead?
The homestead is situated next to the HERD orphanage in our private and protected reserve in South Africa. It’s also right alongside the carers’ accommodation and gardens, which includes a food garden. The homestead is surrounded by Big 5 wilderness, with views across the reserve and the mountains in the distance, plus the sunrise each morning.
What does the homestead look like?
On one side of the homestead area is a large canopy which provides cover for the elephants. The homestead grounds are divided into different areas to keep the older bulls separated from each other at night. This is done to prevent fights from breaking out between the bulls and having them possibly harm others.
The canopy is surrounded by gardens where there is fresh water available for the elephants to drink. Every day the homestead is stocked with fresh bana grass, branches, lucerne and fruit or vegetables when available to supplement the elephants’ diet overnight.
The gardens include sand mounds, which are made by our team and are re-sculpted frequently. These mounds make it easier for the bigger elephants to lie down to sleep. As elephants are such large animals, it is difficult for them to get up after lying down to sleep on a flat surface. When they lie down against the sand mounds, it’s easier for them to get back onto their feet. We create the sand mounds by using a tractor to mould the sand.
Where does each elephant sleep?
At night, certain elephants stay together in the different areas under the canopy. All the areas have access to the garden. The four older bulls – Sebakwe, Somopane, Fishan and Jabulani – each stay in a different area with the elephants who are their homestead mates. The homestead structure was set up based on which elephants gravitate towards each other or need each other.
Setombe prefers to always be beside Sebakwe, as he gives her confidence and a sense of security. Klaserie, Setombe’s daughter, also stays with them. As a result, Klaserie is also close to Sebakwe.
Bubi and her son Zindoga stay in an area with Somopane. The two used to stay with Fishan, but after he broke his leg he could no longer stay where a bull like Zindoga might push him. Fishan now stays with Tokwe, Limpopo, Pisa, Kumbura and Timisa, but he is still very close to Bubi.
Lundi and her son Mambo stay in an area with Jabulani. Lundi is good at keeping the two bulls in line.
Why do the elephants sleep at the homestead?
As the herd are rescued animals or orphans, they need extra protection. The original rescued herd from Zimbabwe arrived being used to humans and this can pose a risk if they were to roam freely in a wilderness area where there are other humans and human developments. The homestead offers the herd safety overnight when they are not roaming through the reserve in the daylight hours with their carers. There is electric fencing around the homestead to keep predators and other potential threats, including the wild elephants, out. The carers are always nearby and can keep an eye and ear on the herd from their accommodation alongside the homestead through the night.
The elephants show us that they feel safe in the homestead, as they often lie down to sleep at night. In the wild, elephants rarely lie down to sleep, as it makes them vulnerable to predators. The elephants therefore feel that they are safe from predators in the homestead and can safely lie down to sleep.
Why doesn’t Khanyisa stay at the homestead at night?
At the moment, Khanyisa receives milk bottles every few hours, including during the night. It could be dangerous for the carers to go into the homestead at night to give Khanyisa her bottles. The other elephants’ sleep may also be disturbed if carers have to go into the homestead throughout the night. It is therefore safer for Khanyisa to stay at the orphanage until she has at least been weaned off her night time milk bottles.
Do the new orphans ever go to the homestead?
The close proximity of the homestead to the orphanage gives the new orphans comfort and a chance to safely engage with their own species across the divide. The orphans’ early integration into the herd happens in the homestead gardens, as Adine and the carers slowly start to introduce them to the different elephants. They also take the orphans on walks inside the homestead while the herd is out in the bush, so they can get used to the smells of the bigger elephants.
In these early integration stages, the team will also take dung from the orphans and put it into the homestead, and take dung from the herd and put it into the orphanage garden, in order for the orphans and the herd to get used to each other’s scents.
After they are rehabilitated and closer to being weaned from milk, the orphans move from the orphanage nursery to the homestead overnight. Before this, they still spend about 12 hours a day with the herd in the bush.