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.
The matriarch of the herd, Cathy was born in Uganda in 1960. After capture in the Murchison Falls National Park as a baby, she was taken to a safari park near Toronto, Canada, where she was ‘recruited’ by Randall Moore to return to Africa for the filming of Circles in a Forest, a movie set in the Knysna Forest in South Africa and based on the classic novel by Dalene Mathee. With her co-stars, Abu and Benny, she was moved to the Okavango Delta in 1990. Her stable temperament and gentleness made her the natural matriarch and she has always had a steadying influence on the herd, particularly on the youngsters.
Sirheni was one of the original ‘brat pack’ of six young elephant orphans from the Kruger Park. Her name means ‘where the old cows meet’ and Sirheni is a very doting and natural mother in the Abu Herd with a loving nature and all the necessary maternal attributes of calmness and patience. She gave birth to Raditlou Wantha, the first baby to be born within Abu Camp. Poor little Raditlou was two months premature and sadly died after just 13 days. Sirheni quickly mated with a wild bull in the area and presented the camp first with Pula and then ‘baby Abu’ – both lively young bulls who have since been introduced into the wild.
Sirheni’s fourth calf was born on 17 December 2011 and named Warona, 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 ‘sisters’, Lorato and Paseka, play with her and generally try to keep her out of trouble.
Firstborn of the late Kitimetse, Lorato was born just a few days short of Valentine’s Day, giving rise to her name, which is a derivation of the word ‘love’ in Setswana. Brimming with personality and a fast learner, she quickly made friends in the herd, particularly with Naya (since introduced into the wild), Paseka and Warona. She enjoys being the ‘big sister’ to all the youngsters.
Lorato gave birth to her first calf, Motlotlo, at the end of January 2018.
Motlotlo was born in January 2018 and is the newest member of the Abu Herd. He is the firstborn of Lorato, which makes him Kitimetse’s grandson and Naledi’s half-nephew. Motlotlo’s name means ‘Pride’ or ‘Proud’ in Setswana and was chosen in honour of his late grandmother, who passed away almost exactly four years before he was born.
Motlotlo is beginning to integrate into the Abu Herd as he finds his feet and works out what his trunk is for. Lorato is keeping a watchful eye on him, and Naledi has been very keen to help, also. She doesn’t seem to mind having to share the limelight with this new arrival!
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.
Her name means ‘Easter’ in Setswana and refers to the time of year she joined the Abu Herd. Paseka was found in April 2009 abandoned by a wild herd in the Okavango after being attacked by hyaenas.
She took refuge in the generator room of Seba Camp, at which point it was too late to ‘let nature take its course’, so she was brought to Abu where her wounds were treated and Sirheni, who was lactating at the time, duly adopted her.
Paseka gave birth to her first calf, Shamiso, at the end of April 2018 – almost nine years to the day since she joined the Abu Herd.
The second calf born at Abu Camp in the space of three months, Shamiso was not entirely expected. That explains his name, which means ‘surprise’ in Setswana. Shamiso is Paseka’s first calf, and as he is just three months younger than Motlotlo, the two of them soon became inseparable playmates. With two births in such a short period of time, we have a unique opportunity to observe how young elephants grow, learn and interact with each other, as well as with older members of the Abu Herd.