In the last few weeks you have no doubt been following the story of one of the largest and most significant elephant translocations in human history. There has been amazing coverage of the event, with reports on CNN, ITV and National Geographic and amazing footage of the elephants across all social media platforms. It really has been a breathtaking sight to behold and a staggering step in the right direction for conservation worldwide. And we at Kinetic Six are honoured and humbled to have been part of this amazing journey.
It all started in 2016, when planning and preparations for the move began. Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve, both located in southern Malawi, have for many years – thanks to the efforts of African Parks and the Malawi Government – considered to be ‘source populations’ for elephants. However, both parks were near to capacity, with approximately 800 elephants in Liwonde and 400 elephants in Majete. The density of these populations was resulting in the degradation of wildlife habitats and high levels of human-wildlife conflict, largely deriving from crop-raiding elephants.
The plan was to move 500 elephants from these two parks to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, which is a viable ‘sink’ habitat for surplus elephants. The reserve is a natural habitat for the species, containing sufficient resources to support a large herd of elephants and other animals. However before the translocation, elephant numbers had been depleted to fewer than 100, compared to the 1,500 twenty years ago.
African Parks assumed management of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in 2015, and have completely overhauled the law enforcement and anti-poaching measures, making the reserve now safe for the elephants and other species to be reintroduced. To move 500 Elephants there was an enormous task, and required the help of many expert teams and contracted professionals. The total distance covered throughout the manoeuvres roughly equated to 125,000km.
In July 2016 the first 261 Elephants were successfully moved from Liwonde to Nkhotakota, along with 1,117 other game animals. This was an enormous undertaking and took many weeks to complete safely and with minimal stress to the animals. First the elephants are darted and retrieved from the field by crane and recovery trucks. They are then placed in ‘wake-up crates’ and loaded onto 30-ton low-bed trucks for the drive to Nkhotakota. Upon arrival, the elephants are released into a custom-built holding facility within the sanctuary called a ‘Boma’, where they are kept for up to 24 hours for observation to make sure they are not too affected by their journey, before being released into the whole park.
Then, last month, the last 250 elephants began their journey from Liwonde and Majete to Nkhotakota. In this final phase more care was taken than ever to ensure elephant families were kept together from start to finish. Some extraordinary footage has been released by African Parks of the move, including the journey of one particular family which you can watch here:
It has been a truly extraordinary journey for all involved, from the planning and preparation teams, to those working tirelessly on the ground, to the elephants themselves. We are incredibly proud to have been able to assist and hope that this incredible event paves the way for conservation projects in the future!