For nearly two decades, visitors to Plumari Private Reserve in the Magaliesberg have been greeted by the sight of two majestic elephants roaming the reserve or cooling down in the dam in front of the lodge. Those more intrepid have the opportunity to come close to these peaceful pachyderms and to learn what an incredible species they are, but few know how Damara and Nzewe escaped an uncertain future twice and eventually found sanctuary here.

Born in Zimbabwe at a time when culling and poaching left numerous young elephants orphaned, Damara and Nzewe were taken in by the Hensman family who wanted to do something about the plight of orphaned elephants. Their farm in Zimbabwe was under the required 10 000 hectares to allow elephants to roam freely and forage for themselves, so elephant lover Rory Hensman formulated a plan to provide a safe haven for orphaned elephants by training them in a humane manner that would ensure their survival in a sustainable way. Using the positive reinforcement methodology rather than the ‘bullhook’ approach, Damara and Nzewe, alongside other elephants, were trained to interact with humans while being able to live safely and happily at the Hensman farm. Sadly, in the mid-2000s, political turmoil in the country forced the family to seek new homes for both the human and animal residents of the farm.

Around this time, approximately 5 000 hectares of land was being transformed into the Plumari Private Reserve in the Magaliesberg area, and was rapidly becoming a popular game lodge in Gauteng. The reserve was already home to four of the Big Five but was not big enough for free-roaming elephants. Through the bush telegraph word got out that the Hensman family was seeking a new home for Damara and Nzewe, and that Plumari Private Reserve was seeking elephants that could live in a game reserve under 10 000 hectares. After considerable due diligence, red tape, incredible logistics and help from several corners, Damara and Nzewe arrived in their new home, and Plumari Private Reserve became the first game lodge in Gauteng to have all of the Big Five.

Rescuing elephants is a big responsibility. One has to take into account the safety of humans, the animals’ wellbeing, ensuring enough space to roam and enough to eat. In association with EFAF (Elephants for Africa Forever) Plumari was able to continue with Rory Hensman’s positive training approach to keep Damara and Nzewe happy and stimulated. Over the last two decades, they have reached maturity and roam the reserve as its joint patriarchs, and are beloved by all visitors to African Hills Safari Lodge.

Keeping our elephants happy, healthy and stimulated is an absolute priority for us at African Hills and we work continuously on building and keeping trust and rapport between us and our charges. When not interacting with our guests, the elephants are left to be elephants on our 6 800 ha game reserve where they can free-range feed, play or bathe. We supplement their diets with grass, oats and lucerne, game pellets, fruit and vegetables during the year, and conduct daily health checks. They sleep in large stables where they are monitored, protected and fed throughout the night.

To meet Damara and Nzewe at African Hills Safari Lodge email us on