What is “500 Elephants”
“500 Elephants” was the largest ever translocation of elephants to a single reserve, and was one of the most significant translocation initiatives in conservation history. African Parks, in collaboration with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), moved up to 500 elephants, in addition to around 1,500 other animals of various species, on a one-way journey of approximately 350 km from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve in southern Malawi to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in northern Malawi. All three parks are managed by African Parks in partnership with DNPW. In July 2016, 261 elephants and 1,117 head of game animals were moved from Liwonde and Majete to Nkhotakota. Starting June 2017, another 250 additional elephants were moved to Nkhotakota over six weeks.
What is a translocation?
Translocations are a valuable, resource-intensive conservation management strategy that can be applied to protected areas to actively reduce the risk of species extinction by broadening their range and increasing their numbers. The “500 Elephants” translocation is an example of human-assisted migration, and is these elephants’ best hope for a sustainable future.
What precedent does this translocation set?
A project of this scale was logistically challenging and required substantial capacity. What this initiative demonstrated was that scale does not have to be a limitation. Seemingly extreme measures were taken to alleviate overstocked parks, to restock new parks, and to relocate animals from unprotected areas to protected areas. This translocation also showcased the extraordinary lengths people from various sectors went to actively protect an endangered species.
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 roughly equated to 125,000 km, which is equivalent to three times around the world, using four 30-ton rig trucks from South Africa for capture and delivery. Staff, trucks and equipment will have journeyed for five days to be on site in Liwonde by early June and then in Majete in July of 2017. Within Liwonde, Majete and Nkhotakota, hundreds of kilometres of roads and river crossings have been repaired and constructed to improve both vehicle and animal accessibility. Road networks have been enhanced to facilitate the construction of the requisite fencing in Nkhotakota, including that of a 47,000-acre sanctuary and the 445,000 acres of the wider park. This additional infrastructure was an invaluable asset to the parks’ tourism capacity and the prevention of human-wildlife conflict. It was also an important source of employment for local communities.
How do you move 500 elephants?
The elephant translocation occurred in phases, each of which has been carefully planned to ensure minimal stress for the animals. Elephants were darted by helicopter and retrieved from the field by crane and recovery trucks. They were then awoken in purpose-built ‘wake-up’ crates that were loaded onto 30-ton low-bed trucks for their journey to Nkhotakota. On arrival, the elephants were released into a boma – a holding facility with food and water that is protected by a perimeter of electric fencing. Following a period of 12 to 24 hours, they were then released into the larger sanctuary.
What about other game?
In 2016, 1,117 head of game were moved from Liwonde and Majete to Nkhotakota. This included buffalo, eland, impala, kudu, waterbuck and warthog. In 2017, additional teams were mobilised to capture hundreds of buffalo, waterbuck and sable in Liwonde and Majete for transport to Nkhotakota. Eland, zebra and hartebeest were translocated from Majete to Liwonde.
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.
About the Parks
Liwonde is known for some of the best river-based wildlife viewing in all of Africa. This ecosystem supports over 400 species of birds and harbours Malawi’s largest remaining populations of elephant and critically endangered black rhino.
Majete is a true conservation success story. Prior to African Park’s involvement, the park was devoid of all wildlife, but today is now a Big Five reserve where thousands of historically occurring animals have been reintroduced.
Nkhotakota is the country’s oldest park and home to remnant populations of elephant, waterbuck and other species. By controlling the key threat of poaching, the park is poised to be one of Malawi’s most important wildlife sanctuaries.