6 July 2018
Only 150 kilometers to the west of uMkhuze, Ezemvelo’s Ithala Game Reserve struggles with the same challenge of effectively maintaining their blossoming elephant population within the reserve’s approximately 30 000 ha protected area.
“There are various ways in which an overpopulation of elephants can be managed. This includes culling, contraceptives, as well as translocations. In both uMkhuze and Ithala, contraceptive plans have already been put into action. This will, however, take time to significantly contain numbers – time that the reserve does not have as the tightly contained herds of elephants start to disrupt ecosystems and diminish resources,” explained Dave Cooper, Wildlife Veterinarian for Ezemvelo.
The elephants crossed two borders and traversed three countries (South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique). Less than two days later, they were released into the care of Peace Parks Foundation and Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas who co-manage the elephant’s new home – Zinave National Park.
ERP, supported by groupelephant.com, funded and coordinated the translocation operation as part of their drive to translocate large elephant numbers outside of South African borders, to alleviate the country’s increasing elephant population pressures. Helicopter time and fuel was sponsored by Wild Tomorrow Fund.
Zinave, situated within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, offers a protected space of 408 000 ha with prime elephant habitat, more than sufficient water resources, and only a handful of local elephants – positioning the uMkhuze and Ithala elephants to proliferate as the progenitors of a thriving new elephant population. The new elephants will bring the total elephant population in the Park to about 67, a number that is expected to double over the next 10 years.
The ‘destructive’ behavior that resulted in the elephants’ move from uMkhuze and Ithala, is exactly what will now benefit the ecosystem balance in Zinave. With almost no wildlife present in the Park for decades, the vegetation has become extremely overgrown and dense. Peace Parks Foundation has been rewilding the conservation area for the past few years and the close to 1 250 animals, mostly grazers, brought in have already started to change the flora landscape for the better. However, the elephants will now take this to a whole new level.
As Bernard van Lente, Peace Parks Foundation’s Project Manager in Zinave, notes: “The elephants will stimulate biodiversity by trampling and, thereby, opening up space in overgrown areas, allowing for other species of grasses and smaller saplings to gain access to sunlight, currently blocked out by dominant, larger tree species. The spaces opened up by elephants will also create pathways for other species and expose grasses and flora for these grazers to eat, food that would otherwise have been inaccessible. In addition, the proliferation of other insects attracted to elephant dung also provides food for birds and bats, which in turn helps spark the increase in other species, known as ‘succession’.”
Rewilding Mozambique’s protected areas is a primary focus in Peace Parks Foundation’s strategy for the development of transfrontier conservation areas in the region, with repopulated parks hopefully leading the way in revitalising the country’s eco-tourism economies.
In September 2015, Peace Parks Foundation signed an agreement with the Government of Mozambique through the National Administration for Conservation Areas for the co-management and development of Zinave National Park as part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. Peace Parks Foundation’s work in Zinave, which commenced in January 2016, is funded by a philanthropic donor, who has made a financial commitment over a 10-year period (2016 – 2025) to invest in restocking the park, supporting conservation efforts, facilitating tourism development and investing in community development.
ERP and PPF
In 2018, ERP recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Peace Parks Foundation to take on the role of the Foundation’s strategic elephant management partner in Mozambique.
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