Manual elephant relocation may not be quite as difficult as moving mountains, but it is close. That is why is is so spectacular to watch conservationists from African Parks, a non-profit organization based in Johannesburg, South Africa, doing just that: picking up and moving 500 elephants, one by one, by tranquilizing them, hogtying them, and suspending them high up in the air on a crane. The operation is ongoing in the African country of Malawi.
Buzzfeed reports that African Parks is trying to move endangered elephants from parks where their numbers are thriving to parks where there are not enough of them due to poaching. They call the process “human-induced migration,” and it entails moving the endangered elephants into trucks before hauling them nearly 200 miles to Malawi’s Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.
According to ABC, once they have tranquilized one of the elephants from a truck but before picking it up with the crane and moving it into the truck, the African parks conservationists have to flip the creature’s huge ears over its eyes to block out light that could alarm the animal while it is being moved. They also have to prop open the tip of the elephant’s trunk with twigs to make sure the breathing passageway does not get crushed closed once the elephant is packed into the truck with scores of other elephants.
After all that is accomplished, the workers put straps around the elephant’s ankles. The straps are secured to chains, the other ends of which are attached to an industrial crane. The crane picks the gargantuan elephant high above the ground — this is where the whole tranquilized bit really comes in handy — before gently lowering it into the bed of a giant truck.
Elephant moved successfully. Now repeat 500 times.
The 500 elephants will be moved over the course of July and August. The job will be repeated next winter, when the rugged Malawian terrain where the elephants reside will be dryer and will facilitate easier traversal by the trucks.
Dr. Andre Uys, a veterinarian working with the elephant relocation team, says that the elephant relocation process can be very stressful and even dangerous — after all, the elephants can weigh in excess of seven tons.
Uys was referring to the humans moving the 500 elephants, but one can assume it must be equally as stressful and dangerous for the elephants themselves — it can’t be fun waking up to find yourself with sore ankles and jammed into a flatbed truck, unable to see or move because of the scores of other elephant bodies pressed against yours.
Despite being difficult for all those involved, says African Parks member Craig Reid, the forced relocation is necessary to allow the currently endangered elephant population to branch out in more areas of Malawi, as well as to maintain the fragile ecosystem in the park to which the 500 elephants are being moved.
Reid even goes so far as to say that the “human-induced migration,” a procedure that has been refined by African conservationists in recent years, will likely play a huge part in managing the continent’s wildlife populations, elephants and otherwise, which face an ever-present threat of poaching.
“This is very much the way that we’ll have to manage things in the future.”
African species expert Bas Huijbregts agreed.
“[Human-induced migration] will likely become the new norm in many places in Africa,” Huijbregts said.
“A win-win for elephants and people.”
Commenters on several articles covering the relocation point out that it certainly doesn’t seem like a “win” for the 500 elephants who are being forcefully ripped from their homes and being moved into a park where the elephant population has already been decimated by poachers.
It’s up for debate whether the elephants being moved is actually good for the elephants or only for the conservationists. What do you think? Make yourself heard in the comments section below!
[Photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP Images]