Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Elephants find new home with massive relocation

Published:Wednesday | July 20, 2016 | 7:00 AM
An elephant is lifted by a crane in an upside down position in Lilongwe, Malawi, in the first step of an assisted migration of 500 of the threatened species.

Half a dozen African elephants lay strewn on a riverside plain in Malawi, immobilised by darts fired from a helicopter in a massive project to move 500 elephants, by truck and crane, to a sanctuary for the threatened species.

As development squeezes Africa's wildlife areas, this kind of man-made animal migration is increasingly seen as a conservation strategy in Malawi, one of the continent's most densely populated countries, and beyond.

Conservationists flipped the prostrate elephants' large ears over their eyes to block out light, and propped open the tips of their trunks with twigs to ensure unimpeded breathing. Then the multi-ton elephants, hanging upside down from ankle straps, were loaded by crane onto trucks for a road trip of about 300 kilometres to a safer, more spacious area.

African elephants are in particular peril from human encroachment, while poachers have slaughtered them in the tens of thousands to meet demand for ivory, mostly in Asia.

The Malawi elephant project differs from other wildlife relocations because of its large scale.

"This is very much the way that we'll have to manage things in the future," said Craig Reid, manager of Malawi's Liwonde National Park, which is run by African Parks, a non-profit group based in Johannesburg. Reid described Liwonde as "an ecological island in a sea of humanity."

African Parks is relocating hundreds of what it calls "surplus" elephants from Liwonde and Majete, another park, to Nkhotakota, a third reserve where poachers have virtually wiped out the elephant population.

- AP