Elephants in South Africa have long been drawn to the scent of ripened marula fruit, and local communities have learned to follow their instincts to know when the fruit is ready to be harvested.
This annual marula harvest is a highlight of the year for both locals and elephants, who travel great distances in their herds to partake in the fruit gathering.
Amarula, a South African liquor company, buys the harvested fruit from locals to create their Amarula Cream Liquors and Amarula African Gin, which are sold worldwide.
An elephant stands in front of an ancient marula tree in the Kapama Private Game Reserve
For centuries, elephants have been drawn to the scent of ripened marula fruit across the plains of South Africa (pictured)
Elephants in the Kapama Private Game Reserve in northern South Africa walk towards a watering hole
Men, woman and children rush out of their homes to hand-pick sackfuls of the prized fruit that have dropped on the ground during the summer harvesting season. Pictured: Locals harvesting the marula fruit
The marula fruit can only be picked during a short window of time, usually between January and February, and the ancient trees where they grow cannot be cultivated.
Thus, the annual harvest provides a crucial income source for locals, particularly women and elderly individuals. The money earned from selling the fruit has helped many individuals feed their families.
Generations of families have learned from the elephants’ instincts and as soon as the animals begin to gather below the ancient marula trees, the locals know the fruit is ready to be harvested
For centuries, elephants have been drawn to the scent of ripened marula fruit across the plains of South Africa
Locals have for years been able to earn money from their hard work by selling the fruit to Amarula, a liquor company based in South Africa. Pictured: Two women stand on the side of the road before selling the marula fruit they have picked to Amarula
A group of workers load the bags of marula fruit onto a truck that will head towards the distillery
Then, as bags of marula arrive at the Amarula distillery where locals – mostly women – sort through the fruit (pictured) which is then distilled to eventually create the Amarula Cream Liquors and the Amarula African Gin that are sold around the world
A group of workers sort through the marula fruit ready to be distilled
Once the Amarula liquor and gin is made, the company employs local communities to make the fabric tassels that wrap around the neck of the bottles. Pictured: The golden tassels wrapped around the Amarula African Gin, which is available in the UK, France, Germany and Poland
Amarula is committed to elephant conservation, given the vital role that elephants play in signaling when the marula fruit is ready to be picked.
The company established the Amarula Trust in 2008 to safeguard elephants, which are facing threats such as habitat loss and poaching.
Amarula supports local groups, including South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage, HERD, which cares for and rehabilitates young elephants who have fallen victim to human conflict.
The company set up the Amarula Trust in 2008 with the aim of safeguarding elephants, which are facing changes to their habitats and poachers, by working with local groups. One of these groups is HERD, South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage, which cares for and rehabilitates the young elephants. Pictured: Elephants cared for by HERD at a watering hole
An elephant runs towards a buffalo at a watering hole in the Kapama Private Game Reserve
An elephant drinks water at a watering hole in the Kapama Private Game Reserve
The orphanage lies adjacent to the Jabulani Herd stables on the Kapama Private Game Reserve in northern South Africa, which allows the charity to integrate each baby elephant into a herd of fellow orphans once they reach a certain age. Pictured: The elephant herd at the watering hole on the private reserve
In addition to supporting elephant conservation, Amarula employs local communities to create fabric tassels that wrap around the necks of their liquor bottles.
These “tassel sisters” from the Handwork Hub have made over 40 million tassels since 2017. The tassels can be seen on Amarula Cream liqueur bottles sold in 100 countries and on the Amarula African Gin, which has been launched in the UK, France, Germany, and Poland.
Amarula is committed to building a sustainable future within the marula fruit ecosystem and beyond, as demonstrated through its support for multiple organizations and initiatives framed under three pillars: elephant conservation, empowering people, and strengthening communities.
The HERD Trust has also rescued a rare albino elephant calf named Khanyisa (pictured with a ranger). She was found trapped in a scare, set up by poachers, in 2020 and it took months for her to be fully rehabilitated
Those orphaned elephants eventually join the larger herd of elephants, which lumber along the plains, their tails swishing, towards a watering hole
They spend their days roaming and foraging in the wilderness alongside their loyal carers, many of whom are locals, who protect the elephants from predators and poachers