An Elephantastic Experience
WRITTEN BY CHAD COCKING | TANDA TULA
Elephants are big animals. Now I bet you are glad you opened this blog to learn such a ground-breaking fact! Whilst this might be a classic example of stating the obvious, I don’t think one ever appreciates just how big an elephant is until you are standing next to one and examining these pachyderms from inches away. Why on earth would one be examining an elephant from a few inches away you may ask, as such an examination would usually be the last thing that said person would see.
The answer to why I was examining an elephant at such close quarters comes from last week when Tristan and I joined the Teams from Elephants Alive and Wild Wonderful World on their latest elephant collaring operation. For those of you that have visited Tanda Tula in the past, there is a chance that you may even have seen one of their collared subjects wandering around the Greater Kruger Park system providing elephant researchers with valuable information that will go some way to ensuring these gentle giants future protection.
Elephants Alive have been operating in the Greater Kruger for over two decades, and have collared over 200 individual elephants in the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Area – an area of conservancies and corridors that covers over 100,000km2. These collared subjects provide a vital insight into the spatial movements of members of the elephant populations as they traverse this vast landscape, using corridors to navigate between human settlements and over international boundaries to get from one conservation area to another. The more we know about elephants, their movements, and their needs, the better we can plan our conservation of elephants to protect one of Africa’s most iconic and important megafaunal species.
A question that often gets asked when we come across a collared elephant relates to how such a collar ends up on the elephant, as one clearly can’t simply walk up to the said elephant and put it over his or her neck…they tend not to like that! Last week we got a first-hand experience of just how this gets done, and it is no simple feat. Fortunately, for the team at Elephants Alive, this was not their first rodeo and within a couple of hours, they had located, immobilized, collared, and remobilized two individual elephants as if it was just another day in the office for them! Yet despite making it look so easy, you could see how much care and passion the whole team had for these animals, and it was a real treat to be a part of the operation.
The operation involves a team of researchers, a wildlife veterinarian, a wildlife helicopter pilot (with a helicopter), reserve conservationists to protect these potentially dangerous operations, as well as a host of support crews to make sure that everything runs smoothly, and that the elephant can be back on its feet as soon as possible. All elements of this operation cost money, and this is where Elephants Alive relies on the support of sponsors and donors from around the world. This is where Wild Wonderful World comes in; they connect passionate people to the wild through intentional safari experiences and empower conservation efforts with their dedicated wildlife fund. This particular collaring operation was sponsored by one of their long-time supporters who contributed towards the funds required for not only the collar but also for the operation itself. This donor was then able to join the team and participate in the operation, giving him a once-in-a-lifetime experience, whilst contributing to the long-term survival of the elephants of the Greater Kruger.