Update June 2016: in line with current protocols re close up animal encounters, Camp Jabulani is no longer offering elephant-back riding, even though their rescued herd were habituated and used to human interaction.
Camp Jabulani left me feeling enriched in so many ways and I am now completely in love with elephants. Camp Jabulani is one of the good guys in elephant back riding – according to my safari tart friend Shaz, who did a magazine exposé on the elephant riding safari industry. And I became convinced of this on my own accord. Camp Jabulani is also one of the best safari lodges in Kruger National Park region, in terms of top accommodation, sublime food, décor elegance, sophistication, charming staff and the whole shebang.
I was lucky enough to be hosted by permission of the owner Lente Roode, whom I met and under whose spell it was easy to succumb. Not only is she beautiful on the outside, but she’s soppy on the inside and loves animals to distraction. I empathized completely.
Read on to find out how she rescued a baby elephant and how that led to her owing a whole herd of tame elephant.
Rescuing a baby ele
Camp Jabulani is named after one special elephant that Lente Roode rescued after he was found stuck in mud. This baby elephant was nurtured back to life, and while attempts were made to reintroduce him to the wild, he preferred human company and refused to go. Jabulani needed some elephant friends, and when Lente heard that eleven trained elephants in Zimbabwe had an uncertain future, she didn’t think twice and rescued them. So Lente suddenly owned a whole herd of trained elephants.
It’s not everyone that has the space in their garden for a herd of ele’s, but luckily Kapama Private Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park, is a family affair. Her backyard is 13000 hectares of African bush, teaming with big game.
Like Jabulani, these new elephants were too habituated to return into the wild, so another plan had to be hatched. Elephant-back safaris seemed like the perfect option. So Camp Jabulani became a safari lodge with a difference.
I am the kind of animal lover who has to touch every creature and I couldn’t wait to meet the elephants. I climbed the scaffold and got onto the back of Jabulani, he probably couldn’t even feel me and didn’t stop tearing down branches to munch on as we strolled.
Paul Coetsee is the elephant boss man and a former hard core, military warrior and crack shot. This man, who is hard as nails with muscles tight as a drum, totally adores his elephants (and likes pretty girls too, even though he must be close on 70, though you’d never say so).
Elephants are not Lente’s only animal passion. She rescues cheetah too who live in the non-profit Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, which she started in the late 1980s. Her passion for animals is evident from the wildlife paintings, bronzes and artifacts found throughout Camp Jabulani. Elephant figures are even cut out of leaves decorating the marble-top basins in the lavish suites, which are huge and very luxurious.
Cuisine at Camp Jabulani is one of the memories I took away with me because the food is so brilliant that each dish easily meets international gourmet standards. The chef personally introduces the menu at the start of each meal and stays to chat about the day and his food. He aims to creat perfectly sized portions of the freshest ingredients presented in an exquisite arrangement that will leave you more than satisfied. I cannot fault his aims or execution and his was the best food I have had on safari in over 150 lodges.
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