In northeast Namibia, near the northwest corner Botswana hard on the border, there lies Khaudum Park, a very wild and remote place. Very few people visit. Infrastructure is extremely limited. It is a mind-boggling three hundred and eighty-four thousand hectare landscape and home to a variety of wildlife. Loxodonta africana exists here in a size not to be equaled anywhere else on the planet. It is here that males of the species weigh in excess of eight and half tons. This is not a guess. It is fact. Verified on a very large scale.
After nine years of extensive negotiations with the Namibian government, the family Joubert succeeded in obtaining permission to capture and transplant more than one hundred of these most special creatures to Erindi Game Reserve. The goal was to protect the gene pool and establish two breeding herds of this particularly outsized jumbo. It was an effort of herculean proportions, on a scale that cannot be easily imagined. The animals were captured and then transported via a game carrier to a gathering place where they were transferred to another specially constructed highway trailer for the nearly one thousand kilometer journey to their new home in the central Namibian highlands.
A brief digression here, if I may. To capture an elephant you do not saunter up to it and place a net over it, stuffing it into a means of conveyance. Elephant do not herd well, so the elephant drive does not function as planned. You must dart the great beasts, then they bugger off to who knows where and fall down asleep if all goes well. Please pay attention to the “who knows where” in the above scenario. Khaudum is wild, virtually roadless country. The Joubert’s utilized game capture helicopters to dart the jumbo and track them to their napping place. Then the vehicles had to be brought in where no roads exist. Bring on the bulldozers. It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?
All of this sounds relatively straight-forward. It was not. First the soil here is mostly sand. Also there were no trailers tall enough to transfer the beasts upright during their long journey. The Joubert’s purchased the largest game trailers made and added a meter to their height. All around each enclosed trailer. Never before in history have elephants in this number and size been transported this distance, let alone under these conditions.
The largest males stood three meter eighty-five centimeters tall, and weighed over seventeen thousand pounds. Two each per trailer and each in their own separate compartment. More than twenty-four hours on the road in some cases. Released into two hundred and sixty-eight square miles of their new home at Erindi. They have flourished and reproduced well.
Elephants need a lot of food and territory to keep them happy. Erindi has suffered, along with most of Namibia, from a severe drought over three of the last four years. A feeding program, utilizing peanut hay, and lucerne (alfalfa) is underway daily. The drought has reduced the size of all waterholes and some have disappeared entirely. Bore holes and pumping, either by generator or solar have helped supply the water necessary.
The cost of the initial capture and transport operation over its two and half month term was staggering. Now add the care and feeding over several years and you can see the magnitude of commitment to this most important species and its conservation. This is just one area where Erindi leads by example, preserving a wildlife legacy for all future generations.