Meet the Handlers & Keepers
The Victoria Falls Elephant Sanctuary Team
Miles away in Chinhoyi, a young boy sits on the back of his fathers tractor, watching the farm owner offloading four young elephant from a trailer. The child’s wide eyes watch as these gentle giants fearfully navigate their new world. He is utterly enthralled by these majestic animals in the throws of enormous change. Decades later, those same wide eyes watch with the same admiration as those same elephants and dozens more happily roam around a different home, one that is ideally equipped to give them the life they might have had had the culling not been necessary. This home is at The Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary. The man watching the elephant is Zenzo Sibanda. And when you find yourself wondering how elephants with such a disruptive and traumatic past have grown into such happy and healthy individuals, you need to look no further than Zenzo, the man who raised them and saved them, to find your answer.
After the relocation, many farmers realized that they had gravely underestimated how much time and effort had to be devoted to successfully raising young elephant. Unfortunately, by this point rehabilitation into the wild was no longer an option. The elephant had grown too accustomed to humans, and it was likely they would wander out of the National Parks into towns and villages, causing unintentional havoc. It appears as though fate decided to intervene at this stage. Worlds away in India, the tourism industry had begun to embrace elephant interactions as a key method in bridging the divide between humans and nature in an educational and enriching way. Feeling hopeful and optimistic, the owner of the farm where Zenzo lived approached a small and newly established tourism company in Victoria Falls- Wild Horizons. And so the Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary was born, and became a beam of light in an otherwise dark and troubled time for the elephant.
Wild Horizons, though skeptical of the idea, acknowledged that without their intervention the future well being of the elephant was in jeopardy. The welfare of the elephant was paramount to the success of the project, and so the first step was to send two guides to Riddles Elephant Training School in Little Rock Arkansas where they were taught how to properly care for habituated elephant. Next, a suitable location for the sanctuary needed to be established. Jijima Camp was nestled within the rich natural landscape bordering the town of Victoria Falls, and the breath taking natural scenery, abundant luscious vegetation and stretches of pristine wilderness made this the perfect place. In 1997, when Zenzo was just 17 years old, he, Miz Ele, Jock, Jack, and Jumbo, now fondly known as the founding four, made their way to their new home.
The Elephant Camp was built to provide luxury accommodation in a stunning natural space, where the elephants could roam freely in between the time spent interacting with tourists. Zenzo quickly rose through the ranks of elephant care and progressed from being a handler, to a trainer, to eventually the elephant manager in 2003. He now oversees the entire elephant interaction operation from behind the scenes, from elephant care to the logistical and operational aspects involved in keeping two herds of elephants happy, healthy and safe. Wild Horizons was soon recognized as the leading company in proper elephant care, and over the years Zenzo and his team have welcomed other elephants into their sanctuary after incidences of poaching, abandonment or culling operations. Each one has received the love and care that only a man like Zenzo could provide. He has an appreciation, sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills him with compassion, gentleness and deep loving concern for all the elephants, each of which clearly returns this love tenfold.
Zenzo has spent most of his life caring for elephants that he met by chance as a little boy. For them, he was a waterfall in a dry landscape. Zenzo laughs generously. Sometimes a throaty chuckle, sometimes a windy gust. A person will hear Zenzo’s heartfelt words, but it is clear that the elephants can feel his attitude, because the love and respect between this man and his herd is perhaps the most eloquent description of family there is. I arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary expecting to meet a manager. Instead, I found an entertainer, an organizer and entrepreneur, a builder of lives and communities, a man of might. He truly is an asset to Wild Horizons and we thank him whole-heartedly for his lifetime of dedication to the Wild Horizons elephant herd.
Alisto came to Wild Horizons in 2012 and immediately felt a connection with these elephants. He has a soft spot for Jumbo and Coco. They are two of the elder elephants and they understand and are very easy to be around.
Alisto has learned so much being around elephants and they have taught him a sense of love and understanding that he didn’t know before. He said “if I leave and come back, they recognize my voice and my scent. They know me and that I belong to them.”
He chose to give working with elephants a try and when Wild Horizons had an urgent call for a lone baby elephant near a coal mine close to Hwange – they asked Amos if he would take care of this baby when it arrived back to the stables. He did and it was the best decision of his life. The baby was named Malasha (meaning coal). Amos was Malasha’s human mom for the first three months as an orphan and with her 24 hours a day. He established a bond with Malasha and she trusted him implicitly.
Amos was able to watch Malasha grow along with several other orphans. He loves all the elephants he works with but being part of an elephants infancy to adulthood holds a special place in his heart.
Because of this love, Amos has broadened his goals and gained his learners guide. After working with the elephants he would go to schools 2 hours a night. It took him a year but thanks to being outdoors and his love of elephants he accomplished this goal.
Amos has two young daughters and they have visited the Wallow. He knows he is bringing up the next generation of people to appreciate elephants and wildlife – not to fear them.
When you meet Amos, be sure to ask him about the time they encountered a bull elephant in musth…
He has worked with many elephants over his 13+ year career both in Zimbabwe and South Africa. He has been with Wild Horizons for six years now and wouldn’t change his choice to be with elephants. He has learned that if you treat them nicely and respect them, they understand and will respect you as well.
Although Harrison loves all of the elephants, he has a special bond with Emily. She accepted Harrison right away and never challenged him. When you come meet Harrison and Emily you will have the opportunity to see their strong relationship in person.
This was proven one time when three keepers were out with elephants and their behavior changed quicly. The elephants were rumbling and changed their walking direction. This made the keepers more aware that something was going on. As the elephants approached an area three lions stood up from their kill. As the elephants started trumpeting and running at the lions, it gave the keepers time to run the other way. The communication and action by the elephants enlightened Joram on just how much trust and respect was between them.
When you meet Joram, ask him about his favorite elephant Emily. She holds a special place in his heart.
He credits his health and young energy to being with the elephants and nature. When he first came to visit Wild Horizons and the elephants, he knew immediately this was the place for him and his future. He has had many experiences and traveled with some of the elephants when they were relocated to South Africa. He believes that experience is one of his favorite because he cared for these elephants up until they were released back into the wild. As an elephant parent, this was an emotional experience to set your elephant free.
Lovemore believes in respect with the elephants. He says that elephants are very smart and even with the wild elephants they meet in the bush, if you respect them, they will respect you.
Lovemore has two decades of experience to share when you come visit the Wallow and the Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary.
At the Wallow Manda wears many hats. He works in administration as a main part of his job but he also gets to be with children that visit and with the elephants. Wild Horizons has a program where children from schools within a 100km radius can visit the Wallow on Fridays and you will find Manda interacting and giving the informative talk to the kids when they visit. Also, when guests arrive, Manda welcomes them, gives the safety information to them and sometimes goes along out in the bush on the encounter with the elephants too.
Manda knew that being in the bush was part of his future and as he says “you have to take opportunities when they arrive to live and support your family but eventually your passion comes back to guide you”. That indeed happened for Manda and he loves being part of the Wallow, elephants and making guests feel at home.
Once he had that comfort level, he knew this was his calling and he didn’t want to leave. Of course when Mathias would go home on holiday he would try to explain his job to his friends and family. It was difficult for them to believe he could be work beside and be close to these “dangerous” animals. Luckily with technology he was able to share photos and videos of his elephants. Mathias loves to teach people that elephants deserve three things – love, respect and trust. He says the elephants are so intelligent and they understand their environment, what the keepers are feeling and respect is the only way to co-exist with wildlife.
Mathias has two children ages ten and seven. They believe their dad’s job of working with elephants is very cool and share that with their classmates.
Mathias has so many incredible experiences from the last 15+ years so please ask him to share as you will feel the same love he has for these beautiful elephants.
Misheck has a calm and reassuring demeanor. He is very comfortable in the bush and being with the elephants is very natural to him. He loves all the elephants and when asked who was his favorite, it started with Jumbo but then he said it was also Coco and Tendai and Jock… They all have a bond with Misheck and they understand him.
One of the farmers he worked for also had elephants because at that time people owned elephants after culling had taken place in the Zambezi Valley. The elephants this gentleman had were Jock, Jumbo, Mizz Ellie and Jake and the rest is history…
As you can imagine, Richard has decades of experience with the elephants and loves them like his own. He doesn’t have a favorite as they have all taught him something about life and he respects them very much. He has seen the good and bad of raising and living among wild animals. He believes that no matter what you have to be respectful, kind and always communicate.
Samuel has a soft spot for the girls in the herds. He has so many stories to tell and has had the amazing experience of watching one of the females actually give birth. He says the females are so gentle and they listen so well.
Norman loves all of the elephants but like some of the other keepers, he enjoys the company of Jumbo and Coco as they are laid back and very intelligent.
We Need You
We want you to become part of our team to ensure the future of Zimbabwe’s elephants. Your support will go directly to the efforts of continuing the elephants care, anti-poaching efforts and educating the next generation to conserve Africa’s most gentle giants.