Kwalata Wilderness was fortunate to receive two elephant bulls which needed relocating to a larger wilderness area where they could roam free.
Their arrival was of vital importance to us as we have sorely been in need of new genetics to ensure the future health and sustainability of our 23-year-old herd. As bulls they will be able to impregnate multiple cows and will thus be extremely effective in introducing new genes. Kwalata was the first farm to successfully relocate elephants in South Africa and these were relocated from Kruger National Park.
The older of the two bulls, Segole (“Injured One”), was born in 1983, Segole got his name from his injured trunk – as a juvenile bull a section had to be amputated. He manages incredibly well to forage with his shorter trunk with the aid of his single tusk. His other tusk was broken off a while back and Segole is a wonderful example of the adaptability of an intelligent animal.
The younger, Induna (“Chief”) was born on 9 January 1998 and was the youngest elephant in the group to make the long journey from Zimbabwe to South Africa in 2002. Induna is quite reserved but has no problem standing up for himself. He promises to grow into a very large adult and will have to face up to the existing herd’s bull to make his way here. He has the gangly look of a tall teenager and is yet to fill out.
We were there to witness the darting and loading of the two bulls. Induna was darted first and we waited patiently for him to slowly sway onto his back legs and finally crumple to the dust. The team then rushed in to secure his feet and tusks to be able to load him feet first by crane onto a large rubber stretcher on the flatbed truck. Moving them quickly is essential so there were some tense moments while the game capture team struggled to secure the ropes around Induna’s tusks in order to lift his head onto the truck. From there he was taken to two larger trucks where the stretcher was then dragged by truck into the recovery compartment. As he is quite tall, there was some difficulty getting his feet into the compartment. Once in, the vet administered the antidote after which he struggled to stand up in the confines of the truck but finally managed with some coaxing. Slowly he then walked into the second truck, backed up to the recovery truck compartment, and the door closed when his tail was finally in.
The procedure was repeated with Segole who was more easily loaded and stood up beautifully while all along grumbling and voicing his dismay. However he did not want to move into the transportation compartment but was finally coaxed to turn around and move backwards into the transport vehicle with some elephant feed cubes.
The two were then transported by truck to Kwalata, sedated, but awake. To prepare for their arrival, we had some trying time ensuring that the new dam wall was compacted enough to receive a huge truck with some 8 tons of elephant on board. The wall had been completely washed away in the March floods. Further crusher was quickly added and after the TLB did the final compaction we were able to get them across safely. The next challenge was to get the truck up the steep concrete strip road. The truck, almost at the top, came to a standstill and the 4×4 tractor was rushed in to pull them to the top.
After clearing two more trees to accommodate the size of the truck at the holding boma’s offloading ramp, the door were finally opened and the elephants walked slowly out into their new temporary enclosure. This was done to let the two bulls settle into the new environment and for them to be acquainted with our herd. Relocated elephants have a tendency to dash off back to where they originated from, using the stars, moon and sun as navigational equipment.
Segole and Induna carefully inspected the boma, assessing the electrical pulse of the fence, having a snack of elephant cubes and breaking some trees for good measure.
We quickly left to let them settle in and not frighten them further. To our horror later that night we could hear them thudding on the steel-plated gate and feared the worst. The next morning we inspected a gate that had been opened like a tin can! Our trackers went to assess whether they had bolted homeward. We were happy to discover that they had been for water and then climbed the nearest mountain to join up with part of the herd for lunch. Thus far they have been joining and separating from the herd and then returning to an area near the boma for elephant cubes. This we hope this will help them settle.
We are very proud to have Induna and Segole to grace Kwalata Wilderness with their enormous size and hope that they will find a home here to be wild elephants. We will need to be careful for a while as being used to people and vehicles they may be a little too familiar and approach. However time can only tell and while we nervously watch developments, we hope that they will spend the duration of their long lives in our mountains, rivers and dams doing what elephants rightfully do.