Malawi begins ‘epic’ rescue to save African elephants

June 11th, 2009 - 6:10 am ICT by IANS  

Cape Town, June 11, (IANS) A massive relocation of elephants has begun in the southern African nation of Malawi, as part of a move that experts say would help protect some 60 pachyderms from human persecution.
The elephants will be transported by trucks, about six hours journey from the conflict-prone Phirilongwe region to Majete Wildlife Reserve, over the next few days.

The elephants moved into the populated Phirilongwe area where the Malawi Lake provided them water after their jungle habitat nearby dried up due to droughts. The pachyderms also raided crops.

The lake has been a major cause of conflict between elephants and humans, since it was also an important water source for the Phirilongwe residents, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), an NGO, which is helping the government in the relocation, said in a statement Wednesday.

“A group of nine elephants, including three young calves, have been successfully darted and tranquilised, and are en route from Phirilongwe to Majete Wildlife Reserve,” Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW southern Africa director, said.

“The capture team report that the start of this epic rescue to save the more than 60 strong Phirilongwe elephant herd got off to a smooth start this morning (Wednesday), and IFAW fully anticipates that the capture of the remaining elephants will be equally hitch free,” he said.

IFAW has partnered with the government to rescue the animals that are at the centre of fierce human-elephant conflict in an area populated mostly by subsistence farmers, the statement said.

“For years the herd has been maimed by local villagers, sometimes using appallingly cruel methods to protect their crops and granaries from raids by the elephants,” said Bell-Leask.

“To bring this desperate situation into sharp focus, our team on the ground reports that one of the elephants darted this morning is missing the bottom portion of her trunk - probably as a result of a snare.

“At least 10 people and numerous elephants have lost their lives in this conflict. The decision to translocate the elephants to a protected area is the only answer to a situation that would have seen the elephants culled through problem animal control if not moved,” IFAW said.

A South African based wildlife organisation, which is widely acknowledged for its expertise and ethical approach, is managing the capture and translocation of the elephants.

“This translocation project to move the Phirilongwe elephants represents a viable and long-term solution to a major conservation management problem and ultimately ensures the safety of both animals and people,” said Bell-Leask.

“It is a reminder that throughout Africa and Asia (where conflicts between humans and elephants also arise) we must develop skillful and thoughtful approaches to human-elephant conflict to prevent these dangerous and deadly circumstances from arising.”

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