Written by: Harriet Nimmo for Conservation Action Trust
The clock was ticking. Two young bull elephants had broken out of Balule Private Reserve, which borders Kruger National Park, crossed the main R40 road, trashed their way through fields of lucerne, then broken into Makalali Private Reserve.
Unfortunately here they continued to wreak havoc, destroying 10 fences and gates, seemingly just for the hell of it – and more worryingly, threatening the security of the fenced buffalo breeding programme. They were now officially classed as problem animals, and so could legally be shot. So it was time for action – and Michelle Henley, Head of Elephants Alive had to quickly work out the logistics of how to relocate these two bulls back to Balule, some 40kms away, and how to fund this.
It was deemed too dangerous to try to herd the elephants by a helicopter from above, as this would involve the elephants having to cross back over the main road. Instead, reinforcements were called for – and two flat-bed trucks, equipped with cranes and accompanying manpower were dispatched from Nelspruit, thanks to Capture Wildlife Vets.
As dawn broke, a helicopter attempted to locate the bulls – both of which had chosen that day to wander to the very far end of the reserve, miles from where they had last been seen. After several attempts, the helicopter finally located one bull, and darted him.
Then began a race against time, trying to manoeuvre the flat-bed truck to the spot where the bull had gone down. It was impressive to watch the capture team quickly and efficiently rope and hoist the unconscious bull onto the back of the truck, carefully positioning him as safely as possible.
Then began the journey back along the highway, with the elephant roped onto the back of the lorry – an incongruous sight for fellow motorists!
Safely back at Balule the bull was hoisted gently onto the ground and was back on his feet within minutes of the antidote being administered. Bull number two took another day to be found – but he too was successfully relocated back to Balule, which by that point had reinforced its fences.
Trucking the elephants was an impressive logistical feat, which was thanks to the professionalism of the vets, the support of Makalale Reserve who allowed time for the elephants to be relocated, rather than shooting them (despite their fences taking a battering), and the dedication of Elephants Alive.