Moving a Mum and Her Calves to Safety

Published on the 7th of May, 2024

May began with a massive translocation operation, moving a family of three elephants off community land and back to the safety of Tsavo East National Park.

This operation had echoes of a very complex translocation that unfolded six months ago, moving an elephant family of four from the same area. Like their predecessors, we had tried dozens of times to push this family of three — a mother, her ten-year-old calf, and her five-year-old calf — through the fence and back into Tsavo East. Also like their predecessors, they flatly refused to cooperate.

Translocations are a last resort, only to be mobilised in situations where elephants cannot be safely pushed back into protected areas by vehicle or helicopter. Over the past eight months, our teams have tried time and again to shepherd the family back into the park. Even the most unruly bulls can usually be coaxed in a certain direction, but this matriarch would not be persuaded.

The family had been living on community land for upwards of a year. In early 2023, the county government erected a new fenceline along community land bordering the Tsavo ecosystem. While this is ultimately a positive development to alleviate human-wildlife conflict, some elephants were ‘marooned’ on the community side during the fenceline’s construction. We have moved as many as possible back into the park, but this family remained a persistent fixture on community land.

On 3rd May 2024, an aerial patrol found that the family was in a good position for a translocation. With the green light from KWS, the SWT helicopter flew to the scene, while ground teams got in position.

Dr Limo of the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit darted the family from the air, beginning with the mum, then the eldest calf, and finally the youngest calf. Mum and baby were lifted onto the SWT crane truck, while the older calf was put on our tractor trailer.

From there, the rest of the operation unfolded like clockwork. Moving in a slow procession, the convoy drove back into the park. The family were revived side-by-side and stood up as a group, before moving off into the bush together. This sector of Tsavo East is familiar territory for them and very much part of their old stomping grounds, so they will feel right at home within the park.

Our goal is always to save lives and, wherever possible, keep wild families together. In this case, monumental action was required to achieve that. Because we were able to seize a small window of opportunity, human-wildlife conflict was averted and this elephant family was kept out of harm’s way.

Keeping Wild Families Together

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