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Africa Geographic Travel

Weighing in around 5 tons, it’s amazing how quietly an elephant can approach. But the sound of one of these animals destroying your source of income will wake anyone. A herd of elephants can cost you $10 000 in crop destruction in a night.

Bull elephants are the most frequent crop raiders, and are also quicker to habituate to scaring tactics, making them harder to deter
Bull elephants are the most frequent crop raiders, and are also quicker to habituate to scaring tactics, making them harder to deter

Rural households bordering wildlife areas do continuous battle with these animals. For communities already treading a fine economic line, the damages can ruin a family. Compensation is rare. It is understandable then, that people retaliate. Guns, spears, and most destructively, poison.

There have been multiple attempts to resolve the problem, with varying success based on localised circumstances. These range from low-tech solutions such as chilli plant fences and community guarding, to large-scale electric fencing. In most cases one or a combination of these methods can help, but just as you get stubborn humans you get stubborn elephants. These belligerent individuals will actively go for the source of the irritants, and trample anything or anyone in their way.

In cases like this there is no option but to move these elephants or put them down. I was lucky to witness the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) mount an effort to do the former for one such animal. The elephant had already injured a person, and was responsible for huge amounts of crop damage. We can debate which species is in the wrong here until we are blue in the face, but the fact is: had this elephant stayed around it would be killed by angry farmers.

Step 1: Start with a well-aimed tranquiliser dart from a helicopter. Ensure elephant sleeping very deeply, loop his back legs together, and do the same for the front
Step 1: Start with a well-aimed tranquiliser dart from a helicopter. Ensure elephant sleeping very deeply, loop his back legs together, and do the same for the front

 He was doing immeasurable harm to the continued tolerance for his species in this area, and I salute KWS for keeping him alive. The operation was quick and efficient. A dart from a helicopter, a crane-lift (that’s right, a crane) onto a truck, and transport to a remote area in Tsavo National Park where he will hopefully be out of trouble’s way.

And lift! Manoeuvre elephant by whichever handholds present themselves
And lift! Manoeuvre elephant by whichever handholds present themselves
A little bit of huffing and puffing, some minor adjustments, and the offender is trucked out of harms way
A little bit of huffing and puffing, some minor adjustments, and the offender is trucked out of harms way

The poaching crisis may eventually be overcome, but people are not going anywhere, and neither is conflict between elephants and humans. Is this kind of operation possible for every crop-raiding elephant on the African continent? Of course not. But is it a wonderful demonstration of a nation’s commitment to keeping its elephants alive? Well, I sure think so.

Find out more about Elephants in Tsavo in our AG online Mag: Where giants still roam

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I’m a simple guy and know what makes me happiest - time spent in wild natural places, preferably with awesome rocks, amazing clouds and my camera. After a number of years in the eco-tourism industry in Botswana and a backpacking stint around eastern Europe and Asia, I recently completed my MSc in conservation biology. My belief is that human population expansion, the root cause of the majority of our conservation problems, will eventually peak and reverse. My goal in life is to try to make sure we still have as many natural places as possible left at that time. See a portfolio of my photographic work or like my Facebook page for more constant updates from wherever I happen to be.

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