We’d like to introduce you to our crazy elephant camerawoman, as she calls herself!
A true warrior in capturing the stories of our Jabulani herd and HERD orphans, Hermien Roelvert is a South African nature documentary filmmaker and she has been by our side for up to four years. The incredible things that happen each day on the ground at Jabulani and HERD are sometimes difficult to put across in short posts, articles or video clips. They require a greater telling, they require time and attention, understanding and empathy. All qualities Hermien has dedicated to filming a new documentary about our special elephants.
“It’s real, it’s inspiring and it’s an eye-opener to what it really takes to raise elephant orphans,” Hermien says in our interview with her below. “It’s really a story worth telling.”
Documenting the herd has its own challenges, it requires taking Mother Nature’s lead ahead of your own desires. But the day-to-day rewards of being involved in the trailblazing efforts of Adine and our team are life-changing and worth every moment, hour, and a long day out in the bush.
Get to know Hermien in our Q&A below!
How did you get involved with Adine and Jabulani?
As an environmental/nature TV producer, I always tend to migrate towards elephant stories, so when I read that Jabulani announced they are closing their elephant-back safaris, I contacted Adine and asked if I could meet with her to discuss the possibility of following that process at my own cost. I was interested in the effect this will have on the herd. It was supposed to be a short 6-month project… but then the first orphan arrived and everything changed! Four years and 22 000 kilometres later (as I stay in Johannesburg) and I am still filming… as the story develops.
What is the name of the documentary project?
Wow – the working title has changed quite a bit – as the story has changed. For a long time it was called “Mother Matriarch”, but that changed (again as things on the ground changed) to “Diary of an Elephant Orphan.”
What is the documentary about?
“Diary of an Elephant Orphan” tells the stories of two of the orphans who arrived at Adine and the team’s doorstep and their journey to be reunited with an elephant family again. It takes the viewer behind the scenes of one of the most complex and demanding wildlife rehabilitation tasks there are as we witness the carers under Adine’s guidance dealing with the everyday ups-and-downs to get the little elephants ready to join their own kind. It’s real, it’s inspiring and it’s an eye-opener to what it really takes to raise elephant orphans.
What is your goal/purpose and what message are you hoping to portray?
This story illustrates how unbelievably difficult elephant rehabilitation is. Once that orphan is rescued, everything changes for that little one and humans become responsible for it. In the end, only an elephant can properly raise an elephant, so finding that young one his or her own kind is paramount.
How long have you been gathering content?
I have actually lost track of time on this process – in my mind I’ve been filming for three years, but when Adine and I started counting the years, we realised it’s been four years already. Crazy! But it’s so worthwhile as this is really a story worth telling, so for me there is only one option – to see it through. (A second series will probably take just as long – then I’ll become known as the crazy elephant camera person!)
What have you learnt along the way about elephants, conservation and life?
On a holistic level, I am worried about the future of these magnificent animals that actually hold up a mirror for ourselves as humans. I am worried that the world “has become too small” for them – that they are “too big” for the world that we created. With space and habitat becoming fractured and fenced-in, they will pay the price, but if we finally realise what we see in that mirror – we’ll realise that all along, we’ve been paying that price with them… we just didn’t realise it.
Always! In this genre of TV that I am in (nature documentaries) you can plan as much as you want, but then you soon have to toss your plan out the window and just react to the situation on the ground. (That’s why the name has changed so much, because Mother Nature goes against my plan and writes the story she wants to…). But that’s how it goes and that’s what I love about my job! It’s pretty similar to how the HERD and Jabulani teams operate as they also have to go with that Mother Nature says!
It makes you feel alive and it’s addictive. That sense of the unknown – that something else other than what you anticipated might happen at any moment and if it does you ask yourself, will I have the ability to capture it? It is extremely exciting. It keeps you humble and grateful if you manage to capture it and it makes you try again when you fail. There is one particular shot of the Jabulani herd that I just never manage to get (for a variety of reasons), but I am adamant that the shot that I envision will be in the final product!
What has spending time with HERD and the orphans been like?
It’s the most humbling experience I have had in my whole life and it has shaped me for the better. The little elephants make you go the extra mile – no matter how tired you are or despondent you feel, because they didn’t ask to be there – they have endured so much in their short lives and their world is altered forever. And then you have this group of awesome humans who just continue and carry on because there is only one way for them and that is forward. They all realise giving up is not an option. (I salute you all – the elephant people!)
What inspires you in the stories of Adine, Jabulani and HERD?
You know what, I haven’t met a bunch of people that ooze so much courage and determination with such a positive outlook on life. But it starts at the top. If Adine wasn’t such a fearless and never-say-die person, it would have been a very different picture. That rubs off and pretty soon that’s the status quo. And boy, have they had to face dire circumstances. But they pick themselves up and continue. It’s humbling to say the least. But that’s why the HERD team will go down in history as trailblazers – and I get to tell a part of their story. How cool is that!
Hermien hopes to complete the filming of the documentary in the coming months, (Mother Nature always plays her role in production) ahead of the lengthy editing process. In the meantime, she will be seeking funding and interest from like-minded and respected broadcasters or suitable platforms that will be able to share her documentary with the broader world’s audience.