Big tuskers arrive in Eastern Cape

HEAVY LIFTING: One of the elephants bound for Buffalo Kloof being loaded at Tembe in KwaZulu-Natal after it was darted
Image: Supplied

Two elephants from Tembe in KwaZulu-Natal have arrived at Buffalo Kloof near Makhanda as part of a project to secure their big tusker genetics.

Dereck Milburn, regional director of The Aspinall Foundation, one half of the partnership which undertook the big move, said on Monday the logistics had been considerable.

“The elephants were transferred 1,700km in a journey which took 27 hours.

“The objective of this historic translocation effort was to infuse the unique ‘tusker’ genetics of these animals into other elephant populations in the country, with an end result of securing these genes for future generations.

“Conservation sometimes requires drastic measures to secure the future of a species.

“By translocating these magnificent animals, we believe that we have made a tangible contribution to the future survival of the tuskers of Africa.

“We consider ourselves privileged to work with these giants.”

The Aspinall Foundation, an England-based wildlife conservation charity, partnered with British waste management company Albus Environmental to affect the transfer.

Milburn said Tembe Elephant Park, located in northern KwaZulu-Natal and managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, was established in 1983 to protect the last remaining herds of free-roaming elephants in SA, known as the “Great Tuskers”.

“These giants used to seasonally roam between Mozambique and Maputaland in the extreme north of KwaZulu-Natal, before finding sanctuary in Tembe where they have now settled.

“The dream of reuniting the elephant population across the international border remains but until that is achieved, management has to implement creative solutions to deal with a growing elephant population in a relatively small reserve.

“The current solution is the contraception of female elephants and the translocation of surplus elephant bulls.”

LONG RIDE: One of two tuskers after its release at Buffalo Kloof near Makhanda
Image: Supplied

Buffalo Kloof Private Game Reserve, owned by the Rippon family, has become a sanctuary for numerous rescue animals.

Eleven elephants from Blaauwbosch Private Game Reserve near Steytlerville were transferred to Buffalo Kloof in 2019 after the authorities declared that Blaauwbosch was being mismanaged and sanctioned a rescue and transfer operation for the resident animals.

The foundation transferred a third big tusker from Tembe to Somkhanda Game Reserve near the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Pongolo.

Milburn said management teams on Buffalo Kloof and Somkhande were carefully monitoring the new arrivals.

“All the reports which have been received thus far are positive and confirm that the elephants are settling in well and are very relaxed.

“The translocation team and other role players are very excited and looking forward to the elephants growing into the giants which they were born to be.”

The translocation was managed by elephant capture specialists Dr Kester Vickery in the US and Conservation Solutions.

Satellite collars, which were donated by the Malcolm Family based in the US, were fitted onto the elephants, allowing the reserve management teams to monitor their wellbeing in their new homes.

Great tuskers traditionally gain this status when their tusks weigh at least 45kg on each side.

According to Pretoria-based wildlife vet and great tusker expert Dr Johan Marais there are fewer than 50 of these animals left in Africa, surviving in reserves like Tsavo East in Kenya and the Kruger National Park and Tembe in SA.

Elephants are threatened by poaching and changes in land use and, according to a 2016 International Union for the Conservation of Nature report, there are 415,000 African elephants left.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, 35,000 of these animals are killed annually by poachers for their ivory, which is trafficked mostly to China where it is made into ornaments and jewellery.

BY GUY ROGERS

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