Welcome to your new home!
2020 and Covid 19 has been a disaster for tourism and the effects of it will be felt for a long time to come but the reserve’s wildlife management does not stop when there are no tourists. 12 October 2020 was an exciting day for us as we were off to Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve to capture 2 mature elephant bulls for relocation to Amakhosi. The reason for this operation is to strengthen our genetic pool on our existing elephants ensuring diversity and preventing inbreeding in the future. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife kindly donated 2 elephant bulls from their Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve and after all the permits were obtained the big day finally broke. So how do you catch and move an elephant? Easy… all you need is a helicopter, 2 4x4 trucks with 35 ton hydraulic cranes, a custom built steel reinforced wake up trailer, a transport truck and trailer, a ground crew of 10 highly experienced game capture guys, a chopper pilot with a death wish, 2 of the most experienced wildlife veterinarians in Southern Africa and a bit of luck!
Vet preparing the darts for the elephants
A base is setup where the transport truck and wake up trailer awaits the tranquilised elephants, this site is within easy access to the main road as the transport truck cannot drive on an uneven surface. Then the helicopter pilot and vet gets airborne to locate a suitable animal, when found it’s darted and then slowly pushed with the helicopter to the nearest 2 track road while the drug takes effect. While this takes place the ground team moves in with the 4x4 crane truck, when the animal is safely down the vets make sure the animal is breathing well and stable for the relocation.
Crane truck stops close to the elephant
The crane truck stops next to the animal and extends its crane to load the elephant, very strong nylon straps are attached to the elephant’s feet and then hooked onto the crane to lift the animal onto the bed of the truck.
Elephant being lifted into transport truck
After loading the animal it is firmly secured and taken back to the wake up trailer base, on arrival the animal is loaded into the wake up trailer and the drug reversed by the vet. The elephant has to get back on its feet before it can be loaded onto the transport truck and if the animal has difficulty in doing this it is helped by the crane and a cattle prodder. Once the animal is on its feet it needs to walk backwards into the transport trailer as it needs to face the door on release, there is not enough space in the trailer for the elephant to turn around inside.
Trucks ready to transport
This exercise had to be done twice to load both our bulls. The vet also treats the animals with a long term sedative to ease their initial stress so that their relocation goes a bit more smoothly. This all might sound simple but a mature wild elephant does not like its freedom taken away from it and only highly experienced men will succeed in getting this done. Both elephant bulls weighed well over 6 tons and amazingly by lunchtime both bulls were loaded and heading for Amakhosi. After 3 hours on the road our majestic new bulls arrived at their new home and are still settling in, both in good health and exploring their new home.
Our sincere thanks goes to Pete Ruinard and KZN Wildlife for making the elephants available, Dr Kester Vickery and his team who arranged and executed the whole exercise, Dr Dave Cooper and the KZN game capture team. What an incredible day it was!
Amakhosi Operations Manager
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