At the time of his death at the age of 44, Abu was perhaps the most famous of all African elephants. He had featured in a Hollywood movie alongside Clint Eastwood and numerous memorable TV adverts. He earned a reputation for quickly mastering complex scenes and was known as “one-take Abu”.
Abu appeared in Eastwood’s 1990 film “White Hunter, Black Heart” (where he stole the scene with an unforgettable charge) and also a memorable commercial for IBM in which he helps a young elephant cross the sand dunes of the Namibian desert to the tune of The Hollies’ hit, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” You can watch the trailer for the Eastwood movie (featuring a brief glimpse of Abu) here and the IBM commercial featuring Abu here.
Abu was born in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, in 1960. Orphaned, he was sold to a dealer in Texas who ran a safari park. His life changed in 1991 when he was sold again to Randall Moore, the founder of Abu Camp. Somehow fate had intervened and brought together a conservationist who specialised in retraining elephants born or raised in safari parks, circuses and zoos to survive in the wild, and an elephant destined for greatness.
Abu returned to South Africa with Moore and starred in the film “Circles in a Forest”. When the film was complete, Moore proposed staying on in the Knysna forest, using Abu and other elephants to find and link up with a herd of wild elephants still living there.
When Moore was obliged to move his elephants to Botswana, Abu quickly established himself as the main attraction and became a stable father figure to the other elephants who joined the herd at Abu Camp. His acting talent meant that he was in great demand for feature films, documentaries and television commercials.
In another of his most famous celluloid moments, Abu rescued an actor from being savaged to death by a large rubber crocodile!
Abu suffered a severe leg injury in August 2002 in a confrontation with a wild bull. The injury forced him to put all of his five-tonne weight on his other front leg, which led to a fatal heart attack towards the end of the same year.
Abu is still sorely missed but his and Moore’s legacies live on at the camp that bears his name – a name that was revived in 2008 for a male calf born to Shireni. At first known as Baby Abu, and then Abu Junior, this bull was introduced into the wild in 2013 and carries his name with pride on his wanderings around the Delta.
As for Jabu, the younger elephant featured in the IBM commercial, recently one of our Facebook fans informed us that the advert was filmed mainly at Cape Vidal in 1988 and 1989 and that Jabu now stands 11.5 ft (about 3.35 metres) high at the shoulder and will be turning 29 years old in October 2015!