How to Move 500 Elephants

Fagjun | Published 2017-08-30 19:11


Should you ever find yourself needing to move 500 elephants, here's what you should do. Shoot them with a potent tranquilizer, make sure they fall into unconsciousness in the right position, then use a specially made crane to lift the elephants into their crates.


That sounds easy enough, doesn't it?


Of course, it's likely that you'd never be in a position wherein you'd need to transport hundreds of large, six-ton pachyderms from one location to another one over 240 kilometers away. However, for a number of people, that's just part of the job.


Wildlife managers in Malawi spent the past two years transporting 520 elephants from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. The massive project was finally done by late this past July. Wildlife managers hope that this move will be able to improve conditions for the elephants.


A New Home for 500 Elephants

The helicopter crew and the ground crew

[Photo by Frank Weitzer]



Elephant populations in Liwonde and Majete are on the rise, which is usually a good thing. However, with the increase in elephant numbers also comes an increase in conflicts between humans and elephants. There are a number of small farms and settlements in the area, on which elephants frequently encroach. The elephants damage plants and livestock, while farmers shoot at elephants.


If the elephant populations in Liwonde and Majete are growing, it's a different story for Nkhotakota. Elephant numbers in this wildlife reserve have dwindled severely in the past years due to poaching.


So how exactly were the elephants moved from one reserve to another? The teams from African Parks first made sure that they moved individuals along with their family groups to make the transition easier. Then, when they spotted a family group, they tranquilized the elephants from a helicopter overhead. Teams on the ground were on standby to make sure that the elephants stayed safe while tranquilized.


Tranquilizing an elephant isn't easy. Tranquilizing 500 elephants, however, is a massive effort. A bad fall can seriously injure or even kill an elephant. The ground crews make sure that the elephant doesn't fall in water or against a tree, and that it doesn't fall on its chest. With the elephant's weight and size, falling on its chest can mean crushed lungs.


The Literal Lengths Conservationists Go To

Lifting an elephant and placing it into a crate

[AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi]



The tranquilizer the teams use is so potent that it can kill a human being in mere minutes. However, it also takes a few minutes to bring an elephant down. When the tranquilizer takes effect and the elephant loses consciousness, the job isn't over yet. Ground crews would need to keep the elephant's airways open by using twigs to keep the openings in the correct position. Crews would also need to pull an elephant's ears over it eyes as protection against the sun.


How do you transfer an unconscious elephant? You tie ropes around its legs and lift it to a crate with a specially made crane. The teams wake the elephants up in the crate with an antidote, but the elephants will remain calm though awake. The job ends when the elephants arrive at their new home, 12 hours away from their old one.


Moving 500 elephants over that kind of distance is tough and complicated, but it's necessary for conservation efforts to be successful.

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