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Written by: Sharon Gilbert-Rivett for the Conservation Action Trust

Limpopo Nature Conservation officer Gerhard De Beer is working feverishly with concerned conservationists to save two bull elephants from Botswana currently trekking through the Lephalale region of South Africa’s Limpopo province.

© Conservation Action Trust
© Conservation Action Trust

The bulls apparently crossed the Limpopo river over the weekend and were moving south of Lephalale, north-west of the Mokolo Dam.

With the help of Yolanda Pretorius of the Elephant Special Advisory Group, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Pretoria, and with funding in place for the immediate translocation of the errant bulls, De Beer is fending off calls from irate farmers to have the animals destroyed.

“There is huge pressure from the farmers in this area to shoot the elephants who are breaking through expensive game fences as they go, risking potential losses of high value game species which may escape as a result,” says De Beer. “However, I want to make a plan to return the elephants to Botswana, which is keen to have them back, and am working to see if we can’t capture, collar and house the elephants for a few days before getting things in place to return them to their home.”

Initial efforts put into place included a plan to relocate the elephants to Marakele National Park near Thabazimbi. However these efforts received a blow with the news that Marakele was unable to assist. According to SANParks, strict conservation policies and protocols prohibit the elephants being housed inside the national park until paperwork for their repatriation to Botswana can be processed. Apparently, there is no elephant boma in Marakele in which to safely place the wandering bulls and, as such, they pose a possible health risk to the national park’s existing inhabitants.

“I am meeting with provincial conservation officials in Polokwane all day today (13 January 2015) in an effort to find a solution to this problem,” says Gerhard de Beer who has been working around the clock to ensure a positive outcome for the two bulls, who are currently ranging northwards in the Ellisras area, crossing through farms as they go.

“If we don’t get somewhere quickly with the plan to return these elephants to their home the farmers in the area are going to insist on them being shot,” says Pretorius. “We have funding in place to pay for the translocation and for the elephants to be collared, so that they can be monitored by us, as the fact that they have come across the border is of huge scientific interest,” she adds.

“I am doing my level best to save these animals,” says De Beer. “It is a relatively straightforward thing for us to return them to Botswana, so we just have to act quickly and calm the situation with the farmers in the area and get a plan in place as fast as possible.”

Private funding has been secured to foot the bill of capturing, collaring and relocating the elephants and Botswana is ready to receive them, says De Beer. All that is needed at this stage to secure a happy outcome for the animals is somewhere for them to be placed for a period of a few days following capture so that paperwork and permits can be organised. “We need to find somewhere with an elephant boma or an area where the elephants can be securely held for four or five days before we translocate them back to Botswana,” says De Beer.

Yolanda Pretorius says that she would like to conduct research on the elephants as there is a lot of scientific interest in why they crossed the border into South Africa. “We’d like to understand this behaviour a little better and in doing so can hopefully help to set up protocols to more effectively deal with wandering elephants like this without having to shoot them in future,” she says.

“With funding ready and waiting for the capture and relocation of these elephants, I would like to urge local farmers to be patient and work with us for a positive outcome in this case,” says De Beer. “The elephants are moving northwards now, and may just head back to Botswana themselves, which would be great because I just want to get these elephants back home.”

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