Relocation of 500 elephants from Malawi’s Liwonde and Majete National Parks after Elephant populations in Africa under pressure after habitat loss
Malawi,June29:Wildlife vet Andre Uys peers out at the herd through the doors of the blue and white helicopter as the chopper peels off to the left, its rotors dipping below the tree line.
Beneath us, a herd of elephants is roaming across the plain.
“Tell the vehicles to wait there,” the pilot radios to the ground crew on the edge of the flood plain. “Standing by at the junction,” they message back.
Uys pulls a dart from a plastic rack; he has to be careful, just one prick from the sharp spike and its powerful cocktail could floor him in minutes.
Dart guns don’t act like normal rifles, he explains. There is no recoil and the dart flies more like an arrow from a bow than a bullet.
This dart flies true, striking the matriarch of the herd in the haunches. The drugs are thousands of times stronger than morphine and the three-ton elephant slows, then drops to her knees.
Capturing an elephant isn’t easy. Imagine trying to capture 500.
African Parks — a conservation non-profit — is capturing and relocating 500 elephants from Malawi’s Liwonde and Majete National Parks, and moving them toNkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, further north.
There is something incredibly audacious about a plan to repopulate parks where elephants have been almost wiped out by poachers. A translocation of this scale has never been done before.
Elephants in crisis
Elephant populations are plummeting across Africa.
A recent continent-wide survey showed catastrophic losses, with numbers dipping from 1.3 million in 1979 to around 350,000 — far lower than expected.
“Elephant populations in Africa are under pressure from poaching and habitat loss,” says Andrew Parker, African Parks’ director of operations. “They are now increasingly being confined into these smaller and smaller protected areas.”
If nothing changes, these majestic animals could become extinct in certain areas.
Across the continent, conservation groups are trying different ways to save the species.
Some advocate for wildlife corridors, allowing elephants to move from place to place.
Others try to promote human-elephant coexistence, building “fences” of beehivesfor farmers, to frighten crop-raiding herds away.
In Tanzania, one group is even throwing condoms filled with chili powder — which elephants hate — to ward off the animals.