Seeking to save “surplus” elephants
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, Animal Rights Africa was
attempting to translocate 12 “problem” elephants from the vicinity of
Weenan, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, to the SanWild Wildlife Trust sanctuary
in Limpopo province.
Orphaned by culling in Kruger National Park, the elder
elephants in the herd were previously translocated in 1993 to the
former Thukela Biosphere Reserve. Created toward the end of the
apartheid regime in South Africa, the Thukela reserve was recently
dissolved and turned over to the Lindauk-huhle Trust, in settlement
of a land claim by the tribal people who were evicted from their
homes when the reserve was declared.
“The successful claimants don’t want the elephants on their
newly returned land,” e-mailed Michele Pickover, founder of Xwe
African Wildlife, which recently merged with Justice for Animals to
form Animal Rights Africa.
The elephants were to have been shot, but Animal Rights
Africa and SanWild intervened, obtained the necessary permits, and
set about trying to arrange a rescue which might have been much
easier if elephants had shorter memories.
Explained Pickover, “Between 1966 and 1994, more than
16,000 elephants were killed in Kruger National Park with the lethal
tranquillizing drug succinylcholine chloride, better known as
Scoline. The elephants were herded together by helicopter and then
darted. The drug literally brought elephants to their knees,
leaving them to suffocate while fully conscious and unable to move.
Calves were captured as they stayed close to their dead and dying
mothers and sold to zoos, safari parks and circuses all over the
After the Conventional on Inter-national Trade in Endangered
Species halted commercial traffic in live elephants and elephant
parts in 1989, and as the global boycott that eventually ended the
apartheid regime economically isolated South Africa, the government
released into Thukela some of the last calves taken alive during the
“They have since bonded into a family group, which has now
produced calves,” Pickover said.
They also remember what happened to them. “It was clear to
everyone who was in Thukela,” during the first phase of the
relocation, “that every single one of these elephants is deeply
traumatized,” Pickover stated.
“The rugged and inaccessible terrain and the deeply
traumatized nature of these elephants meant that we were only able to
radio collar the matriarch and the big bull,” in order to track the
“We will relocate them from Thukela once they have moved on
their own,” Pickover said, “to a place where it will be safer for
them to be darted. This may take a few weeks.
“As a species,” Pickover finished, “elephants have been
victims of wholesale slaughter, suffering, and relentless
displacement. As a consequence, the fabric of elephant society has
been frayed. Research over decades by elephant ethologists means
that we now understand that elephants hurt like us. But we are also
learning that they can heal like us, as well. It is with this in
mind that we will not fail our elephant compatriots.”
Elephant captures for commercial sale have resumed. Pickover
in April 2006 protested against the capture of “six young elephants
between the ages of seven and nine, four females and two males,”
whom she said “were cruelly separated from their families for use by
the elephant-back safari industry. Helicopters, guns and electric
prods were used,” Pickover alleged, ” at the Selati Game Reserve,
with the active participation of a Limpopo nature conservation
official, who was reportedly using live ammunition in response to
attempts by members of the elephant family to stop this atrocity.
Apparently this is not the first time this has taken place at
Selati,” Pickover said.
“The young elephants went to Howard Blight’s Elephants for
Africa Forever in Mooketsi, near Duiwelskloof,” Pickover continued.
Ironically, Pickover noted, “Eleph-ants for Africa Forever
has an ‘elephant charter’ which claims it acknowledges ‘the needs and
wants of the elephants’ and the ‘gregarious and disciplined nature of
the elephant’s family structure,’ and ‘respects the gentle nature of
elephant society and their right to retain the dignity of their