Huge elephant translocation begins in Malawi

No less than 500 elephants are making their way north across Malawi in what is being billed as one of the largest translocations in history.

MASHATU, BOTSWANA - JULY 26:  at the Mashatu game reserve on July 26, 2010 in Mapungubwe, Botswana. Mashatu is a 46,000 hectare reserve located in Eastern Botswana where the Shashe river and Limpopo river meet. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Conservation NGO African Parks has been mobilising Malawi’s largest trucks this month, in order to kick off what it is describing as “one of the largest and most significant elephant translocations in human history”.  

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A total of 500 animals are to travel north from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve between now and 2017. Ninety two individuals have made the journey so far – and will also be joined by sables, waterbucks, zebras, kudus, elands and warthogs.

The 500 Elephants Initiative aims to repopulate Nkhotakota with wildlife after years of poaching, as well as relieve pressure from the elephant surplus in Liwonde and Majete.

“I am thrilled with progress in just the past week” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “This translocation is a very specialised operation and a massive logistical challenge.”

The elephants are being darted from helicopters; retrieved from the field by crane and recovery trucks; and then are awoken in purpose-built ‘wake-up’ crates before boarding trucks for the road trip to Nkhotakota. On arrival, the newcomers will be placed in a holding facility for up to 24 hours before being released into the larger sanctuary.

It’s taken nine months to prepare for this giant operation, which has required tasks such as the reinforcement of road networks; the extensive building of perimeter fencing; the creation of an ‘arrivals’ sanctuary within Nkhotakota; and the hiring of hundreds of local tradesmen. 

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The African elephant is becoming increasingly vulnerable in many parts of the continent, a consequence of poaching, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. “This translocation is a pivotal moment for Malawi, which is emerging as a leader in African elephant conservation,” said Peter Fearnhead. “It’s a story of hope and survival.”