This Is Why We're Moving 200 Elephants

January 28, 2019

4:56 pm

Moving the world’s largest land mammal is not easy work. It takes months — if not years — of planning and coordination. It takes a lot of money, it takes passion, and it takes a serious amount of collaborators. In other words, it's not a casual endeavor. This week, we’re looking back at the process and what the team had to say about this momentous undertaking and why we undertook it in the first place.

ON WHY THE ELEPHANTS NEEDED TO LEAVE

"When elephants are over capacity in a reserve in South Africa, by definition, most of the wildlife areas in southern Africa are fenced, so the animals can't migrate by themselves. They can't go from an area where there's no food to an area where there's lots of food. So, fences stop their migration. So, typically, what they do is they destroy the trees, they alter their own habitat, really, to the point where they start affecting other species and these areas can't be managed for a single species. As much as we like elephants and love them, it's not about a single species. We need to look at the ecosystems as a whole and need to manage it accordingly... So it's very important for us to move elephants in South Africa because there's a lot of reserves who are essentially totally overpopulated with elephants. The situation in southern Africa is very different to the rest of Africa. There are four or five countries where the population of elephants is either stable or growing. And sadly, the situation in the rest of Africa is very different, so, certainly in Central Africa, West Africa, and East Africa, elephants are being decimated at a rapid rate, and to the point where we are losing approximately 40,000 elephants a year."
—Kester Vickery, Founder, Conservation Solutions

“Before this place was not like now what you see today. All of these broken trees were not always broken. I mean, you can see elephant damage on almost all of the trees. The road that you drive in to get here, there aren’t any trees left. That’s why we have to move these elephants. We have to lower the population in this reserve. Otherwise, soon enough, there will be no trees at all.” —Isaia Byele, De Beers Group, Game Ranger

ON HOW THE PROJECT GOT STARTED

“This project started off at the end of 2017 when I heard that there were people moving elephants to Zinave National Park in Mozambique. And then I started to make a couple of phone calls and eventually got a hold of Peace Parks Foundation and we undertook a discovery trip before we got underway. By doing this translocation, we will push back a little bit on the destructive impact that elephant overpopulation has had here, and through the process make sure that both the Zinave and Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve habitats have a chance to thrive.” —Piet Oosthuizen, De Beers Group, Ecology

A driver takes a pit stop to check on the elephants. (Credit: James Oatway)

WHAT IS PEACE PARKS FOUNDATION?

“We're a non-profit established by President Nelson Mandela, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and Anton Rupert. So, two well-known South Africans and a Netherlands Royalty, to facilitate creation of cross-border parks in Africa. That's our main purpose. To bring countries together and to say let's manage nature ... let's look after nature irrespective of international political boundaries.” —Werner Myburgh, CEO, Peace Parks Foundation

WHY MOZAMBIQUE?

“This is a huge win for conservation and Mozambique to move these elephants back to Zinave National Park. Elephants are one of those flagship species that really dominate a landscape and really changes the landscape for the better, and now you can see Zinave in the absence of elephants because of the terrible effects of the Civil War which decimated all the elephant and animal population. It was a devastating civil war. Over one million people lost their lives. Over four million people were displaced. The war is over but you can still see the impact. I was there three or four years ago for the first time before we started working in the park and it was really sad to see there was no life whatsoever. There were no birds, no mammals, no antelope, and, of course, no elephant. The elephant is one of those ecosystem drivers. They have the ability to change and alter the landscape but also bring balance back to the landscape. So from an ecological perspective, it's a huge win. From an economic perspective, it's a huge win. The park functioning will create jobs, it will be another safe haven for animals and, ultimately, it will be a significant tourist attraction for the country and the region.” —Werner Myburgh, CEO, Peace Parks Foundation

ON HOW THE LOCAL COMMUNITY WILL BENEFIT

"The model at Zinave will be one where the community is very involved in the park. Many are being trained as local rangers, including many of the women, which is fantastic. And the communities will also benefit from 20 percent of the revenue generated from the park." —Katie Fergusson, Senior Vice President for Social Impact, De Beers Group

ON WHAT THE ELEPHANTS MEAN FOR MOZAMBIQUE

“It’s the start of getting the park back to where it should be. Having elephants reintroduced — it will just start opening up pathways, creating clearing for saplings to grow, it affects birds, it affects small predators. All the antelope will start coming because now suddenly new vegetation is being opened up for them. In addition to the elephants, we’re obviously bringing other animals, as well, to get the whole system going. Elephants tend to target the trees and the woody material and then we bring a lot of grazers like buffalo and zebra and blue wildebeests, which will eat the grass and cycle that vegetation back into nature.” —Bernard van Lente, Peace Parks Foundation

ON WHAT IT COULD MEAN FOR ELEPHANT CONSERVATION DOWN THE ROAD

“The thing that I think is really important to remember is that Zinave is a massive park. It’s over 400,000 hectares. And very importantly, we all know that the elephant population across the continent is under huge pressure from poaching. So we will protect these elephants and help them thrive and then maybe in 50 or 100 years, if we ever get to the point where our elephants are over-populated, then we can actually repeat this process and use the Zinave elephants to help repopulate other parks and reserves in the future.” —Bernard van Lente, Peace Parks Foundation

A young girl studies in a classroom built with PPF funds. (Credit: James Oatway)