How do you prepare to move 500 elephants?
The logistics associated with a translocation of this scale and complexity required months of intensive planning and preparation. African Parks undertook this immense task with our expert teams, and with contracted professionals from Conservation Solutions. The total distance that was covered throughout the manoeuvres will roughly equate to 125,000km, which is equivalent to three times around the globe, using ten 30-ton rig trucks from South Africa for capture, delivery and return. Staff, trucks and equipment journeyed for five days through Botswana and Zimbabwe to be on site in Liwonde by early July, 2016. Within Liwonde, Majete and Nkhotakota, hundreds of kilometers of roads and river crossings were repaired and constructed to improve both vehicle and animal accessibility. Road networks were enhanced to facilitate the construction of the requisite fencing in Nkhotakota, including that of a 40,000-acre sanctuary and the 400,00 acres of the wider park. This additional infrastructure was an invaluable asset to the parks’ tourism capacity and to the prevention of human-wildlife conflict, and was an important source of employment opportunities and revenue for local communities.
How do you move 500 elephants?
The elephant translocation comprised a series of phases, each of which was carefully planned to ensure minimal stress for the animals. Elephants were darted by helicopter; retrieved from the field by crane and recovery trucks; and were then be awoken in purpose-built ‘wake-up’ crates before being loaded onto 30-ton low-bed trucks for their 350km journey to Nkhotakota. On arrival, the elephants were released into a holding facility with food and water, protected by a perimeter of electric fencing. Following a period of between 12 and 24 hours, they were released in to the the larger sanctuary.
What about other game?
An additional team was mobilised to capture hundreds of warthog, buffalo, sable, kudu, eland, zebra, impala and waterbuck from Liwonde and Majete, which was moved to Nkhotakota in order to restock the park with optimal numbers of game.
How does this translocation inform future conservation strategies?
As technology and veterinary innovations improve, and as we learn from experience, we are starting to gather a body of knowledge that will facilitate more extensive use of large-scale translocations as a conservation management tool in the future.