The Abu Herd
Like humans, elephants develop their own personalities from a very early age. Their likes and dislikes, foibles and quirks usually stay with them throughout their long lives. The Abu herd though are much more than mere characters; they are eloquent ambassadors for elephant conservation.
Cathy is thought to be born in Uganda around 1960, the same year that Abu was born in South Africa. She was captured in Murchison Falls National Park as a baby and Abu Camp founder Randall Moore found her at a zoo in Toronto, Canada and brought her first to Knysna in South Africa for the filming of “Circles in the Forest”. Following the completion of this film, based on the classic novel by Dalene Matthee, Moore moved Cathy and her co-stars, Abu and Benny, to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where he was able to start the very first elephant-back safaris in Africa.
Cathy’s stable temperament, wisdom and gentleness made her the natural matriarch and she has always had a steadying influence on the Abu herd, particularly on the youngsters. She keeps them in order with a firm hand (or should that be trunk) but allows them to follow their naturally playful instincts.
Sirheni was one of the original “brat pack” of six young elephant orphans saved from a culling operation in Kruger (which was ended in 1994). Her name means “where the old cows meet” and Sirheni is known for being a very doting mother. Naturally calm, patient and loving, she is a great favourite among the elephant handlers as well as being a model of maternal care.
It was appropriate then that the first calf to be born at Abu Camp, Raditlou Wantha, was hers. Sadly Raditlou was two months premature and did not survive, succumbing to complications after just 13 days. Sirheni subsequently mated with wild elephant bulls in the Abu Concession and presented the camp first with Pula (“Rain”) and then “baby Abu” – both lively young bulls who have since been introduced into the wild. Sirheni now patiently looks after her youngest female calf, Warona.
Found at Abu’s sister camp, Seba, after a hyaena attack caused her wild herd to abandon her in April 2009, Paseka (whose name means “Easter”, the day she was found at Seba) was adopted by Sirheni and went on to feature in her own movie!
Paseka took refuge from the marauding hyaenas in the generator room of Seba Camp, perhaps gaining comfort from the elephantine rumblings of the old diesel generator. She was taken to Abu Camp where her wounds were treated and Shireni, who was lactating at the time, duly adopted her. After Sirheni became pregnant with her newest calf, Warona, Paseka was adopted by Kitimetse. Thus Paseka’s best friend, Lorato, became her sister!
Firstborn of the late Kitimetse, Lorato has formed a strong bond with each of the subsequent arrivals in the herd. She was born in 2008, just a few days shy of Valentine’s Day which gave rise to her name, a derivation of the Setswana word for “love”.
Brim-full of personality and a fast learner, Lorato quickly made friends in the Abu herd, particularly with Naya (since introduced into the wild), Paseka and Warona. She enjoys being the “big sister” to all the youngsters and is the biological older half-sister of Naledi, who is five and half years her junior.
Warona is Sirheni’s fourth calf and over time has become more playful and sociable. She was born a week before Christmas in 2011 and the elephant handlers named her Warona, which is a Setswana name meaning “For Us”. Originally she spent a lot of time with Cathy, walking at the front of the herd, but as she grew older she began to mingle more with the rest of the herd and the guests.
Her friends, Lorato and Paseka, play with her and generally try to keep her out of trouble – although they are not always successful.
Born on an incredibly starry summer night in 2013 to Kitimetse, Naledi (which means ‘star’ in Setswana) was tragically orphaned just six weeks later when Kitimetse passed away in January 2014. This meant that immediate action had to be taken to both comfort Naledi – and save her life. Initially, it was thought that Naledi could be nursed by either Sirheni or Cathy, who were both lactating. However, neither of them was able to provide enough milk for the baby (even elephants this young need a lot of milk each day). The decision was made to move Naledi to a safe and comfortable space away from the herd where her elephant handlers could provide love, care and attention around the clock as well as teach her to feed by bottle, before she was judged ready to meet the herd once more.
Naledi has since proven to be a star in every sense, and despite her difficult start in life, has grown to become a firm favourite with her rambunctious yet loving personality.