I woke up at 5:30 this morning and walked to my boss’ house not knowing what to expect of the day ahead. I knew we were going after some “rogue” elephants, though in hindsight the term rogue was unfitting. It was more of a situation that an inexperienced farmer built a fence that wasn’t electric and expected 4-5 ton elephants to not smash it down, resulting in… yup you guested it, them smashing them down!
We got to the farm which was about 30km NW of Omaruru. As we arrived the Erindi Game Reserve field crew had already started to assemble the crates. We had 2 transport crates bolted together on a flatbed tractor trailer, then on a separate wagon there was a 3-piece wake-up crate. Once all this was assembled, we put them in a row, first the transport crates, next the wake up crate, then the roller tray.
The plan is as follows: We hoist the elephant onto the roller tray that has a belted rubber mat on it, which is hooked to a cable pulled by the transport crate trailer into the wake-up crate. We then close the doors and give the elephant a reversal effect to the anesthetic, which causes them to wake up in seconds. After that they stand up and walk into the transport crate, we then close the doors behind them. Then we have an “ellie” ready to go.
At about 10:30am Mr Paul Joubert (General Manager of Erindi) radios us and says he found the breeding herd, comprising of 3 adult females and a 5 year old female. He then herds them with his chopper and siren to a nearby open area near a road. We wait for about an hour then get the call to go in.
On our way in we saw the last cow going down. We use a sedative named M-99. On the 4 ton bull we took Dr. Douwe Grobler, world renowned big game relocater, and only used 12cc of it. It took about 12 minutes for this to kick in. As we arrive everyone starts rushing around. I jump off the crane truck and begin to help. First order of business: when the adults fell, the mother was protecting the calf and fell on top of her, so we had to push the mom off and pull the little one out. It took about 20 guys to do this! Next thing was to strap the ellies’ feet for the crane to pick them up. Meanwhile I had to soak their ears with water, as that is an elephants main cooling system. I also had to watch their trunks as when they are anesthetised, they can close the end of their trunk and suffocate. To combat this, we prop them open with twigs, kinda like Odysseus did to stay awake with his eyes.
After we got the 4 loaded, we took them back to where the transport crate was to load them. Because we had so many, we took the roller tray to move them from the darting to the crates. I rode on it with Dr. Douwe, and we managed to identify which female was the mother, as she was the only one lactating. We loaded her first, then the 5 year old. In the picture below you can see the wake up crate doors closed, containing the 5 year old.
Once we got the entire breeding herd woken up and into the transport crate, we went to look for the 2 bulls that we also had to transport. It took about 2 hours to find one. He was a small bull, 25-28 years old, weighing in at 4.1 tons. He went down in a dense acacia mellifera thicket, so we ran in with the red straps, as the caterpillar ploughed a road for both Ruan Cloete’s (Erindi’s game manager) truck, and the crane truck to get through. Once in, we picked him up and rode back with him on the crane truck. He took no time at all to get in the crate. When we got back to the lodge at 6:45pm, it was getting dark and we decided to leave them in the transport crate overnight and release them into a boma (temporary holding pen) in the morning.
The new elephants will stay in the boma for 1 day, to get them accustomed to our electric fence, after which they will be released in the over 70,000 hectare (172,000 acres) reserve.
As I am writing this, I can still smell the elephants on my clothes.