A Sad Update
A year after our visit, Doug Groves was tragically killed while out walking with Jabu and Morula, trampled to death by a wild elephant. The world lost an incredible man. RIP Doug. His wife Sandi continues their incredible work.
African Elephants are some of the most beautiful and majestic animals that you can find on the planet. Aside from their imposing physical beauty, they also have a lot in common with humans, both in how they interact with each other and in how they form strong family units. These qualities make it easy to fall in love with Elephants whenever you come across them.
While the best place to observe African Elephants is in the wild, being the wild animals that they are, you need to keep your distance from them and give them their space. So it’s difficult to get up close and personal with them, to fully appreciate their individual personalities.
Introducing Jabu and Morula
However, on our recent visit to Botswana, we had the opportunity to do just that in an ethical way when we spent a few hours with Jabu and Morula, a couple of orphaned African Elephants. Jabu is a bull elephant and Morula is a female elephant. Both were orphaned during culling operations, Jabu in Kruger National Park, South Africa and Morula in Zimbabwe.
Due to their troubled starts in life, Jabu and Morula cannot currently be released back into the wild. Jabu also has some chronic injuries for which he is receiving treatment. The plan for Morula at least is to gradually build up a herd of females that she can bond with and eventually release them into the wild.
Jabu and Morula are looked after by Doug and Sandi Groves, who run the Living With Elephants Foundation. They offer small groups of travellers the chance to meet these two beautiful Elephants up close, to witness their unique personalities and to benefit from Doug and Sandis’ years of research and first-hand experience with Elephants.
Our Morning at Living with Elephants
We recently stayed at Sanctuary Retreat’s Stanley’s camp in the Okavango Delta, Botswana and were offered the opportunity to spend the morning with Doug and these two beautiful Elephants. They live only a short drive away from Sanctuary’s Stanley’s Camp and Baines Camp. In fact, on the drive from the airstrip to Stanley’s on our first day, we turned a corner to find Doug casually walking with Morula and Jabu across the savanna. Even from a distance, the tremendous connection between Doug and the two Elephants was obvious.
On the morning of our experience, we first met with Doug alone while Jabu and Morula grazed nearby. Jabu and Morula are not chained in any way and were free to move around and eat under Doug’s watchful eye. In fact, just as Doug began his introduction we had to quickly retreat back to our jeep when a breeding herd of wild Elephants decided to pass close by. This frightened Jabu a little as he is still somewhat uncomfortable around wild Elephants. However, it didn’t take long for Doug to calm Jabu down and return to us.
Some Safety Tips
We had a quick rundown on how to behave safely around the Elephants. Basically, this amounts to not doing anything unless invited by Doug, not getting in the Elephant’s blind spots where they might accidentally kick you or back over you and not getting too excited. Elephants have super sensitive hearing, so if you raise your voice too much it can irritate them.
Next, we were introduced to Morula and were able to get up close to her while Doug told us all about the African Elephant’s physiology and deftly answered all of the questions we could throw his way.
Jabu is Massive
After that Morula went off to graze while Jabu came over to say hello. While Morula was incredibly beautiful and super friendly (without any prompting, she put her trunk on each of our shoulders to say hi!), Jabu was simply amazing to see up close. We’d seen plenty of large bull Elephants in our Botswana safaris – especially in Chobe National Park, but never this close.
Jabu stands over 3.5 metres tall and weighs 5.5 tonnes. His trunk and front legs were as thick as our torsos. When we stood for photos between each of his massive tusks and his trunk, just a very gentle push from his trunk almost caused me to fall over. That being said, Morula was equally as powerful. Towards the end of our experience, she gave Cindy a kiss on the cheek with her trunk and it almost pushed Cindy over backwards!
Picnic with the Elephants
Once we’d met both of the Elephants and had learnt a lot about each of them, we jumped back in the jeep and headed to the picnic spot, leaving Jabu and Morula to happily graze for a while. As we sat down to enjoy our buffet picnic lunch under a beautiful tree, we noticed that Jabu and Morula also had a picnic waiting for them. Their lunch included lots of Morula fruit, which Elephants absolutely love.
It wasn’t long before both of them came over to join us. As we ate our lunch and talked with Doug at the table, Jabu would occasionally wander over to say hello. It turned out that according to Jabu we were running behind schedule. He was very keen to do a demonstration for us. While we finished eating Doug had to keep leading Jabu back to his food until we were ready for him!
Jabu’s demonstration was of all of the different sounds that Elephants naturally make. The diversity of sounds that they make was quite incredible, as was the power of those sounds at close range. Jabu made one final sound for us that wasn’t natural. It was one that he’d improvised. He clearly enjoyed being the centre of attention.
Helping to Spread the Message
While it is a shame that Jabu and Morula are not yet able to be returned to the wild, it’s nice to see that they get as close to that as possible. During the day, they are free to graze in wide open spaces just like wild Elephants do and are only enclosed for their safety at night. Hopefully, over time Doug and Sandi can build up a herd around them. Until then, they are treated to the best care that money can buy and we were able to learn lots about them and to admire them up close.
One of the fantastic things that Doug and Sandi do is to invite local children to come and meet Morula and Jabu. This goes a long way towards getting them to see Elephants as the beautiful creatures that they are rather than just a pest that might bother their village. Over time, activities like this will make a big difference in the effort to boost Elephant conservation in Botswana.
If you have the chance to visit the Okavango Delta and stay at one of Sanctuary’s camps there, we highly recommend visiting the Living With Elephants Foundation. It was one of the highlights of our time in Africa. Check out our video below that shows some highlights of our time with Jabu and Morula.
You can follow Jabu and Morula here, on Jabu’s very own Instagram account!
Going on safari in Botswana
The Okavango Delta is just one of the amazing places you can go on safari in Botswana. If you’re looking for great safari tours, we recommend checking out SafariBookings which has a catalogue of all the best tours and operators in Botswana and across Africa.