We started our search for elephants at Banhine National Park, a beautiful reserve tucked away like a precious jewel amid the wilderness areas which are still part of the Mozambique landscape. Our eyes met with breathtaking views of vast pans dotted with water lilies surrounded by autumn glad Mopani woodlands, Greenthorns, Star-chestnuts and coppery Baobabs piercing the younger canopies like ancient sentinels. The stage was perfectly set to find elephants but we could only find two pairs of fresh tracks of wily bulls who had learnt to circumnavigate human settlements. Their dung was full of germinating watermelon seeds: a dead giveaway of their nocturnal raids into neighbouring settlements. We literally did search high and low for the owners of the spoor but they eluded us in the dense Ironwood forests.
Next we moved on to Parque Nacional do Limpopo. Here finding elephants also proved incredibly challenging. As with our trip in 2016 to deploy the first five elephant collars, we found signs of poachers before finding any elephants. We flew over snare-lines and packs of hunting dogs while strips of fresh meat decorated the trees like a macabre Christmas tree celebrating the slain carcasses of the animals that dotted the landscape.
Finally we caught sight of our first group of elephants in the late afternoon the day before we were scheduled to abandon our eight day trip. At first light of our last day the experienced vet and pilot team set off to deploy the remaining five collars on the group of elephants. We managed to collar four bulls and a young female. These elephants move together in a tight group, huddled together by their fear of the darker side of man. We wish them safety and hope their tracking data set will shed light on how they have managed to survive by hiding like refugees in the former lands of Mozambique which once restocked the Kruger National Park with elephants before the price of ivory skyrocketed.
We would like to thank the following organisations and people for all their efforts to assist us with the collaring operations:
National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC): Dr. Bartolomeu Soto (Director) and Dr. Carlos Lopez Pereira (Head of Law Enforcement and Anti-poaching) for organising flight clearance. Banhine NP: Abel Nhabanga (Warden), Helder Aanmandlate (Head of Security), Ernesto Filipe da Silva (GIS technician). The Peace Parks Foundation (PPF): Antony Alexander (Country Manager), Peter Leitner (Project Manager PNL), Billy Swanepoel (Technical Advisor Protection and Wildlife PNL) and Hannes van Wyk (Conservation Aerial Support Pilot) all helped with the logistics of the operation. We are very grateful to the PPF for donating the fuel. Save the Elephants Crisis Fund: Thank you to Chris Thouless for funding the operating expenses of the collaring operation. Conservation Action Trust: Francis Garrard kindly donated the collars and sponsored the camping crew. Dr. Cobus Raath and Jacques Saayman as experienced veterinarian and wildlife pilot, you never fail to complete a mission. We can’t thank you enough for your perseverance under pressure. Kristoffer Everatt and Rae Kokes, thank you for assisting with the pre-operation sightings of elephants. Adam Cruise provided transport for part of the expedition.