Is there space for elephants?
There are historical records to tell us that African elephants appeared about 4 million years ago – but there are less than half a million left in the whole of Africa today – and as you read this, another one will have been killed for its ivory tusks.
In the modern world of cities, towns, industry and the need for more and more agriculture to feed our growing population, the natural habitat of the elephants has been shrinking over the years and their vast migratory routes and patterns have been disrupted as we limit them to small pockets of wilderness in game reserves. And that means they have to be sterilized to stop them breeding, or entire family groups culled, or at best, transported to other game reserves, meaning families could be broken up and traumatised.
With the arrival of 58 elephants that crossed from Pongola Game Reserve into Royal Jozini Big 6 when water levels were low, the question is even more pressing. How did they get to Pongola Game reserve in the first place, and where to from here?
The Pongola Game Reserve was first proclaimed on 13 June 1894, and is therefore the oldest official game reserve in Africa. After an absence of over 100 years two families of elephants were acquired from the Kruger National Park. Later that same year, three bulls that had recently been translocated from Kruger National Park to another reserve in the area, broke out and decided to take up residency in the Pongola Game Reserve: ‘Douw’ about 50 years old, ‘Jochum’ about 35 and ‘Ingane’ about 25.
Then a minor miracle occurred: Jochum and Ingane escaped from the Pongola Game Reserve via the Pongola river line. Jochum’s ‘wanderlust’ took him to a neighbouring reserve 50km away, and Ingane went to another, over 40km away.
Ingane made friends with a very sad little family of orphans living without parental guidance. They were all about 10 years old. Their parents had been culled, and the babies transported to KwaZulu-Natal in the first relocation exercises. Only the very young had been spared in these culling exercises, to be placed in other reserves.
Ingane and Jochum then returned to Pongola by themselves.
About 13 months later Ingane moved down to the Mpete river line in the reserve. He stayed on the river line, walking up and down for many days along the fence adjacent to the N2 highway. Eventually his patience was rewarded – the orphans appeared and crossed under the highway using the Mpete bridge, pushed over the fence, and were greeted by Ingane! Ingane stayed there with them for a week, and then took them to be introduced to the herd.
The matriarchs of the Pongola herd immediately started to teach these new elephants good elephant behaviour as they behaved poorly according to “well bred elephant” standards.
The Great Escape episode showed the wildlife managers how urgent it was to educate local farmers, communities and the public about elephants.
”The elephants are telling us something: that they need space to visit each other. Thus Space for Elephants was born,” said Dr Heinz Kohrs, a vet and the Founding Trustee of Space for Elephants.
Space for Elephants are monitoring the herd and have great vision for restoring corridors to enable the elephants to move freely, and also to ensure that people in the local communities are educated, rewarded and included in all plans for making space for the elephants, to ensure their long term survival in reality and also in the hearts of all who live in Africa.
The Elephant was the original communicator in Africa, opening up pathways through the bush and over mountains for man to follow, thus uniting the continent, therefore the elephant is the symbol of African Unity.
The Elephant is the strongest and largest animal in the World, the King of all animals and therefore is the symbol of Power.
The Elephant has a powerful sense “of family” and the members of the herd are connected by strong bonds, and is therefore a symbol of Family Unity and the African Philosophy of Ubuntu.
ODE TO THE ELEPHANT
“You whose feet pounded the earth, the hard earth into powder in ancient times, so that green things may grow. You are the protecting spirit of Africa. You are the whisper of our stories in the wind that has forgotten its heritage. I salute you, elephants of the plains of Africa. Bayete, elephant!”. Credo Mutwa
Read more about Space for Elephants here.