Abu Camp Remembers
ABU – FIRST OF THE HERD
The term ‘star quality’ is difficult to define even in humans but Randall Moore recognised it immediately in the elephant he found in cramped quarters in a wildlife park at Grand Prairie, Texas, in 1987. Moore was looking for a mature bull with good-sized tusks to take the elephant lead in the movie ‘Circles in a Forest.’ The elephant’s name was Abu and Moore realised that there was something special about him despite the poor conditions in which he was being kept, in the mistaken belief that he was in musth and possibly dangerous. Soon Abu, well-scrubbed, well-behaved and responsive to Moore’s ministrations, was on board a ship bound for South Africa – and stardom.
Abu’s star quality shone through during the filming in the Knysna Forest. He played the part of Big Foot, a giant tusker that looms out of the misty forest glades to terrorise a village. Abu readily learned a great range of ‘behaviours’ needed for the film, including the ability to save the human star from drowning by lifting him with tusks and trunk gently from a stream and depositing him on terra firma. He won immediate acclaim for his role and was soon the star of an award-winning commercial for IBM as the older elephant leading a baby on a long journey over dunes and rocky paths.
Abu won international recognition when he starred with Clint Eastwood in ‘White Hunter, Black Heart’ which included a scene in which the elephant charges the film star and tosses and ‘kills’ his black tracker. The manner in which he seemed to understand immediately what was expected of him gained him the soubriquet “one-take Abu” in Hollywood as he tended to get it right first time, every time.
He went on to star in several feature films and numerous commercials, all enhancing his international reputation. According to Moore, Abu revelled in making films and in learning often complicated manoeuvres for the cameras. “He seemed to know he was going to be called on when the film crews arrived and started unloading their equipment. He would immediately strike his best poses for the director, just like any human star,” Moore recalled. “Abu loved playing the part of the roughest, toughest bull on the block when, in fact, he was the gentlest and easiest animal to work with.”
Away from the cameras, Abu was just as special. As the herd expanded, Abu took on the role of father figure for the young elephants, encouraging them to play their part in the team and being firm when their errant behaviour called for it. “He was always ready and willing to help when problems arose with the other elephants,” said Moore. “He was a very special elephant.”
Kiti, as she was fondly called, was found abandoned by a wild herd in the Okavango after being attacked by a crocodile as a baby. She was taken to Abu Camp and had her wounds treated, before being given the name Kitimetse which means ‘I am lost’ in Setswana. She made a full recovery and was slowly introduced to the rest of the herd where she became fully accepted, forming a close bond with Gikka and Shireni. She was famous for her “blowing kisses” and gentle demeanour, and provided both researchers and guests with important data on elephant behaviour. She is known to have mated with Mafunyane and, in early 2008 gave birth to Lorato. In January 2014, she sadly passed away due to health complications, but her legacy lives on in Lorato and her last-born, Naledi, who was only six weeks old when her mother died.
Benny was one of the original trio (with Abu and Cathy) brought from America specifically to feature in the film ‘Circles in a Forest,’ which was shot on location in the Knysna Forest in South Africa. Benny was born in the Kruger National Park in 1959 and shipped to the US as a baby. He was found by Randall Moore in a zoo at Fort Worth, Texas. A large, rather timid bull, Benny became a firm favourite with many guests at Abu Camp. His floppy ear added to his sad aspect and endeared him to all. In the Okavango, Benny eventually learned to overcome his shyness of water and in his old age took readily to his introduction back into the wild. Unfortunately, Benny died after sustaining severe wounds in a fight with a wild elephant. He is remembered with great affection by all at Abu Camp.
A stocky, magnificently-proportioned bull with a broad head and splayed tusks, Mthondo Mbomvu was born in Zimbabwe in 1975. As a young elephant he was transferred to the Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa where he had a reputation as a rather troublesome animal, misbehaving along with other youngsters and lacking the parental guidance and control that adolescent elephants require. He joined the Abu herd in 1993 where, under Abu’s firm guidance, he developed into a quiet and dependable adult. Mthondo was introduced back into the world during the last quarter of 2009 and continued to be closely monitored up until the time of his death.
Born at Abu Camp in 2000 to Shireni, Pula developed into a playful and captivating young bull. His name means ‘rain’ in Setswana, as his birth coincided with a massive and much-needed storm in the Okavango. At birth, he measured 91 cm in height and it was an hour before he took his first hesitant steps. Pula was introduced into the wild in August 2008 and also monitored until his passing.
As a young bull, Seba was rescued from a Kruger Park cull and went on to star in the Walt Disney production, ‘Whispers,’ an elephant allegory that was filmed in and around Abu Camp. In fact, Seba means ‘whispers’ in Setswana. Always a mischievous and adventurous young elephant, Seba adapted quickly to the Okavango Delta and roamed far and wide, usually in the company of Thando.