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Conservation Services

Game Capture & Translocation

Elephant

Translocation of elephant from the KNP to the Limpopo National Park

During 2001, 2002 and 2003 a total of 111 (25, 48 and 38 respectively) elephant were translocated to various parts of the newly proclaimed Limpopo National Park in Mozambique from the Kruger National Park.

This was part of an initially ambitious plan to relocate 1000 elephant to the Mozambique section of the park over 4 years. Read more.

Elephants will be darted from a helicopter whenever possible. Be aware that darting on foot or from a vehicle is potentially more dangerous, especially if working with family groups, as it affords less control over darted animals during the induction phase. Dart the animals in the large muscle groups of the hindquarters, back or shoulders. Avoid areas in the region of the ears. Due to the thickness of the skin a dart must be placed at right angles to the body surface to ensure a deep intramuscular injection.Dart the matriarch and other dominant females first when capturing family groups. Other members of the group are only darted once these first animals are significantly affected and almost stationary. If younger members are darted too early there is an increased chance that the group will fragment during the induction phase. Dart the members of a family group in order from the oldest to youngest animals (largest to smallest); this reduces the chances of larger animals collapsing on smaller individuals. Induction times vary from 5 to 15 minutes. Large bulls may take a longer time to become recumbent. The signs of induction in a darted animal include a slowing of pace, dropping of the head, relaxation of the penis and flaccidity of the trunk.

Handling of the immobilised animal

  • Elephants are obligate nasal breathers and it is essential that the trunk does not become obstructed or blocked, this is ensured by inserting a twig into the external opening of the trunk and maintaining the trunk in a straight position.
  • Due to the shape of the thoracic cavity and the large bulk of the digestive tract elephants can only remain in sternal recumbency for 15 to 20 minutes before they must be rolled onto their side. It can be extremely difficult to roll an animal into lateral recumbency, especially an adult bull, which is lying with its hindlegs in the “splits” position. Take cognizance of the safety of personnel on the ground and if possible administer the full antidote dose in these cases.
  • An immobilized animal with its head lying downhill will experience respiratory distress.
  • In the laterally recumbent animal the top ear is folded over the eye to protect it from damage due to sunlight, dust and trauma.
  • Elephants usually maintain effective cardiovascular and respiratory function when immobilized. Pulse rate is monitor by palpating an artery on the back of the ear, 40 to 50 beats per min. is considered normal. Respiration should be deep and at least 6 to 8 breaths per min. in adults and faster in younger animals. Arterial blood should be “cherry” red in colour. Body temperature should not exceed 41°C and an animal should be vigorously cooled with water should its body temperature start approaching these levels.

Transportation

  • The translocation of adult elephants requires specialized and purpose built crates. They need to be strong enough and large enough to contain the animals and yet still be within size and weight limits to travel on public roads.
  • The capture and loading of elephant family groups and adult bulls (>2.5 m shoulder height) should only be done if necessary recovery equipment and highly skilled and experienced capture personnel are available.
  • Adult bulls (>2.5 m shoulder height) are transported in individual crates and family groups are placed in mass crates and transported as a unit. It is essential that mothers and their calves are correctly identified and placed together. The crates for adult bulls should be of sufficient height and just wide enough to allow the animal to stand comfortably. The animal should not be able to turn around or lie down in the crate.
  • Transport crates must allow for adequate drainage and ventilation during the journey as elephants produce large quantities of faeces and urine.
  • Animals of similar size, especially sub-adults, should be grouped together in crates as larger animals tend to bully smaller individuals.
  • Elephants are very effectively tranquillized with relatively low doses of azaperone. A single dose of azaperone is usually effective for two hours and, therefore, animals should be monitored every two hours.
  • Very young calves (small enough to fit under their mother’s stomach) seldom need tranquillization.
  • Haloperidol is used as an effective tranquillizer in those animals that become refractory to the effects of azaperone. It is also used to tranquillizers individuals for longer periods of time, up to 10 hours.
  • Elephants will seldom drink or eat when being transported, even over long distances. However, in extremely hot weather or on prolonged journeys animals must be cooled with water and offered water to drink.

Maintenance in holding facilities

  • At the point of destination, elephants should be off-loaded into a boma, one hectare in size and surrounded by a multi-stranded electric fence and cables to ensure adequate “fence training”.
  • House elephants in these facilities for approximately 1 to 2 days to allow them to settle down, re-establish family bonds and become exposed and conditioned to electric fences.
  • Tranquillize the matriarch and other adults and sub-adults with azaperone and if necessary haloperidol just prior to off-loading.
  • Elephants are highly social animals and should preferably not be housed separately.
  • It is essential that they have access to grazing, browse and fresh water; the water should be provided in abundance, as they will use this for spraying themselves and cooling off as well.
  • Provide shade in the form of large trees.
  • The enclosure should be well designed and managed to contain the animals and to minimize exposure to stressful factors from the surroundings.