8 August 2017
As the last elephants disappeared into the thick bush of their new home to reunite with the rest of their family unit, game capture and veterinarian teams exchange glances of relief – grateful that their skill and dedication had been able to keep these African giants safe during the 700km journey from Liwonde to Nyika.
It is never a conservationist’s first choice to put even one elephant through such a potentially arduous experience, and even more so, 34 elephants. In Liwonde, though, the carrying capacity for elephant had been far exceeded. Nyika, on the other hand, still offers ample space, and indeed, will benefit from the addition of new elephant groups to improve viability of the herd and fast-track recovery of critical numbers – making this translocation a win for both the elephants and the park.
Thanks to increased anti-poaching efforts made possible through the TFCA establishment process, the Nyika National Park has seen a steady increase of wildlife over the years. This trend is also evident in the growth of the elephant population that has multiplied considerably from the mere 32 elephants counted in 2004. With the additional 34 elephant now being released into the Park, new genes will be introduced to bolster the population health of the resident population.
Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, the Honourable Aggrey Masi, reiterated Malawi’s commitment: “We are committed to intensifying anti-poaching operations and supporting community development in areas adjacent to these protected areas. One road to achieving this, is through good conservation management that leads to the development of a healthy eco-tourism industry. Supplementing the elephant population in Nyika will not only have long-term benefit for elephant conservation, but will at the same time benefit communities surrounding the park through the spin-offs from growth in tourism.”
The translocation was initiated by the Government of Malawi, and funded by Peace Parks Foundation through a substantial investment received from Stichting Dioraphte.
Much of the funding is being used to ensure the seamless and safe acclimatisation of the elephants to their new environment. For the next twelve months, the elephants will remain in a newly constructed sanctuary of 7,000ha that is big enough for them to feed naturally from the vegetation. They will be monitored closely on a daily basis and only once the newly introduced herd is established, will they be released into the larger park. A light aircraft has also been purchased and two staff members of the country’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife will be trained as pilots. The aerial support will aid in monitoring the translocated elephants once released from the sanctuary, as well as with day-to-day conservation management within Nyika National Parks and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve. In addition, the matriarch elephants have been fitted with VHF and satellite collars, to enable tracking of their movements.