Our story starts in Zimbabwe's second largest game reserve, the world famous Gonarezhou National Park situated in the south-eastern corner of the country, bordering on Mozambique and South Africa’s Kruger National Park. In the 1980s the culling of African elephants to control population numbers was a common practice in Zimbabwe. The adult elephants in our herd started their journey into elephant life during these difficult times. During a culling operation their mothers were killed and all of them were left orphaned. Taken in by an elephant sanctuary close to Gonarezhou National Park, their bond with humans grew slowly but surely, and here they learned to trust the species that was originally responsible for the pain they suffered as young elephants. On 16 July 1987 the group was relocated to Sondelani Game Reserve and, under the guidance and care of highly trained elephant trainers, they started their training into elephant back safari elephants.
In 2002 Shambala Game Reserve applied to relocate the herd to the Waterberg area and, after successful negotiations, the group could finally be moved to South Africa. On 24 May 2002, together with the original team of elephant trainers with whom they had formed a very strong bond in Sondelani, they were ready for the long journey by road over the Zimbabwean border into South Africa. At the time the herd consisted of seven members. Unfortunately Jumbo, the dominant bull, had to be left at Sondelani, because he was too large to fit into the transport vehicle, so the remaining six elephants, Mickey, Mouse, Anna, Hlatini, Gobisa and the 4-year old bull calf, Landela, had to leave without him. After eleven hours the herd and their trainers reached Shambala Game Reserve near Vaalwater in the Waterberg Mountains. The trainers started the enormous task of helping the herd to settle into their new habitat with its unfamiliar vegetation and mountainous terrain, and so the Waterberg Elephant Back Safari company was born.
On 23 January 2003 Mother Nature presented the Waterberg Elephant Back Safari company with the gift of new life, when Anna gave birth to a healthy cow calf. She was named Madiba, after South Africa's former president, Mr Nelson Mandela. On 20 September the same year, Mouse gave birth to her cow calf, named Shambala. The gods were smiling upon the herd and they were thriving in their new home, Shambala Game Reserve, which means "Paradise on Earth", and they were indeed in paradise.
Because of the free roaming wild elephants at Shambala Game Reserve, it was considered too risky to conduct elephant back safaris amongst them, so a smaller fenced area was allocated for these purposes. In 2008 it was decided to relocate the free roaming wild elephant herd and to move the trained elephant herd onto the Greater Shambala Game Reserve. This would give them access to better natural feeding and, for the first time, the opportunity to really be free to live and roam wild, while still playing a vital role in educating visitors to Shambala about elephants and their complex world.
In spite of a negative pregnancy test result, Mouse surprised the veterinarians on 24 August 2008, when she gave birth to a healthy cow calf that arrived as unexpectedly as a long wished for Christmas gift that you never expected to receive. We named her Dimpho, meaning "Gift" in the Northern Sotho language.
Preparations continued until the big day finally dawned, and on 1 November 2008 we started Elephant Back Safaris on the Greater Shambala Game Reserve. Now guests would have the unique experience of viewing the surrounding bushveld, the Big Five and an abundance of other wildlife and bird species from the back of an African elephant, whilst the handlers educate them about elephants and their world. This was a new beginning for the herd and from the start we saw how they flourished in their new surroundings, exploring the bush and the mountains like free, wild elephants, the way it should be. On 8 September 2009 Anna gave birth to her second calf, Kedibone, the first elephant to be born on the Shambala open reserve.
Today these trained elephants roam Shambala Game Reserve freely during feeding excursions and are slowly but surely forming a natural matriarch system, teaching their young the elephant way of life, just as Mother Nature intended them to do.