March 13th marks the one year anniversary since Thembi, Jabu's sibling, passed. Doug and Sandi miss her terribly and shared some heartwarming memories which I've centered this post around. For those of you lucky enough to have met Thembi, as I did 23 years ago, you know that she is an Elephant no one can forget!
Thembi (Thembekile - meaning Trust in Zulu) was born in Kruger National Park along with her brother, Jabu, in 1986. They were orphaned as a product of a culling operation in 1988, with their adult family members wiped out. Left as insecure two year olds, their future was unknown. In fact, there were 10 orphans at the time and sadly the other 8 died since they were yearlings requiring formula bottle feeding and people didn't know correct formula practices at that time.
Jabu and Thembi were meant to be survivors and hit the jackpot the day they met Doug. As a newcomer to Africa, possibly feeling a bit alone, he found himself a perfect little (for the time being) family. He was smitten with them immediately and as an elephant specialist decided to adopt them. Soon thereafter he met and fell in love with Sandi, his now South African wife, and the four of them set out to find a home.
Botswana, "the elephant capital of the world", became the "perfect place to raise baby elephants" says Sandi. Morula came a bit later into the herd, as a traumatized teen, and soon became Thembi's best girlfriend - which all of us girls need. Their family was complete. They spent the next three decades, growing as individuals and as a family, in safety, living in the heart of the Okavango Delta.
Doug describes their little girl as "having modest sized ears that were very neat around the margins, bright honey brown eyes, and a straight tail with a luxurious tuft at the tip. She was also fast on her feet and we called her our racing elephant or Thembi Twinkle Toes. She excelled at everything she did and when she threw mud on her back she often made a perfect spiral in the air before it came splatting down on her beautiful broad back."
Sandi fondly remembers Thembi as "Nimble, dainty, fast on her feet. Smart and fierce. She was quick to sound the alarm and rush to defend the herd." Apparently Thembi loved to be dramatic and had a bit of chicken little syndrome, maybe from being traumatized as a yearling and acting out possible Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is a studied condition with elephants whose lives are disrupted by culls, poaching or translocation.
Morula would get drawn into the drama and the two of them could be seen having hysterically good times.
Jabu, being the steady force for both girls, acted as the "anchor in all of their storms", comments Sandi. Whether Thembi was spooking herself with fluttering butterflies or a turtle crossing the plain, Jabu would be there to provide comfort to her. But don't be swayed, Sandi reiterates, "Thembi was fearless. She was our lion chaser and would even push big wild bull elephants around." Thembi lived large, one could say she grabbed hold of any opportunity to make a passionate dash or charge. A good reminder for us all.
"Thembi was always very high energy and she always knew what she wanted. She was a good teacher, a fast learner and a wild child. We loved watching her play with abandon and I always thought that "Wild Thing" would be the perfect song for our perfect little princess.", Doug reflects. Turn it up friends and remember Thembi.
Thembi died on March 13, 2017 at the age of 30 years from a natural form of colic. Life saving surgery couldn't be done at her age or even reach her in time. The herd stayed close to her body for hours - touching, feeling and grieving. Jabu and Morula called out to her for nights and tracked her footprints trying to locate her. Smashing trees is a common activity when stressed - and Jabu, normally calm, alternated between tree bashing and trying to lift her back on her feet immediately after she collapsed. As months went by, a new normal set in and the Groves comment that it's a bit quieter on walks nowadays. There is a silence they have learned to live with. In that silence however a new relationship is forming, one between Jabu and Morula. Without Thembi being the glue between them, they now must learn to lean on one another. Check out the Facebook updates and videos - seems they are having no troubles finding fun!
Rumbles Thembi... our elephant friend, dear sister to Jabu, girlfriend to Morula, and Doug and Sandi's little princess - we will never forget you.
Author: Kelsey Envik Photos/Video: Sandi Groves Guardians: Doug and Sandi Groves