Malawi Is About to Relocate 500 Huge Elephants to a New Wildlife Reserve

Moving is difficult under any circumstances, but when you’re relocating 500 gargantuan elephants, you’ve got a true logistical challenge on your hands. That’s exactly what’s happening in the African nation of Malawi in the summer of 2016.

It’s the largest elephant relocation ever attempted and it needs to succeed to save their lives.

Nonprofit conservation group African Parks will take on this task in a bid to better distribute Malawi’s elephant population. The 500 elephants currently live in wildlife reserves that are bursting at the seams with too many animals. When so many elephants live so close together, the location becomes an irresistible magnet for illegal ivory poachers.

Herd of elephants (Loxodonta africana) walking along shore

Since the 1980s, those poachers have systematically killed 2,000 of Malawi’s 4,000 elephants. China’s exploding market for ivory goads poachers to kill more and more elephants every year. Something must be done to stem this tide of destruction and death. In Malawi, moving a group of elephants to a better location is a key step in that direction.

Getting the job done will be no easy task. Small groups of elephants will be sedated by darts shot from helicopters. They’ll move by truck from Liwonde National Park to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, 180 miles away. There, a 40,000-acre sanctuary awaits them.

Experts estimate that up to 36,000 elephants die at the hands of poachers every year. That’s one elephant killed every 15 minutes of every day. Combine this fact with constant habitat loss and frequent human/elephant conflict and it’s easy to see that elephants don’t have much of a chance. If we do nothing to help them, wild elephants could easily be extinct by 2025.

That’s bad news for many reasons. It’s not just the heartbreaking thought of never seeing a wild elephant roam the African landscape again. Elephants are considered keystone species. Other animals, plants and ecosystems depend on them.

Elephants ensure the proliferation of trees by spreading seeds in their dung. Their footprints collect water for small animals. Their habit of uprooting trees as they eat encourages greater growth of grassland necessary for the survival of grass feeders like zebras. Their presence near human communities can guarantee healthy, sustainable tourism and an escape from poverty.

It not hard to understand how important it is to keep these magnificent creatures alive and well. African Parks believes it can be done.

elephants at sunset

“Most of the news we hear about elephants out of Africa is about the poaching crisis, and their steep declines,” African Parks director of strategic communications Andrea Heydlauff told Al Jazeera. “This is a story about restoration and providing a future for Malawi’s elephants.”

African Parks was founded in 2000 to put an end to the continuing loss of wildlife and their protected areas in Africa. It calls itself the only non-governmental organization in Africa that takes on direct day-to-day responsibility for managing, preserving and sustaining endangered ecosystems. It does so by partnering with governments on a long term basis to manage and finance their national parks.

In addition to its direct efforts to conserve animals and habitat, African Parks works to boost economic development and eliminate poverty in the communities surrounding its parks. These factors work hand in hand toward the goal of ensuring each protected park becomes sustainable financially, socially and economically.

According to African Parks, despite the fact that Africa has more than 1,200 designated Protected Areas, no more than 60 parks larger than 25,000 acres are likely to remain intact over the next two decades. Something must be done now to ensure that fragmentation never happens.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the elephant relocation plan, however. Some voice concerns for the well-being of the elephants as this relocation is carried out.

happy elephants

“Animal welfare concerns would be the emotional experience of the capture process, destabilizing social groups, [and the] distress due to transport and novelty of unfamiliar territory,” All Creatures Animal Welfare Group country director Richard Ssuna told Al Jazeera. “It is my hope these issues have been given ample consideration.”

Over the long term, the new locale will require the elephants to adapt to a different environment and diet. The elephants currently live in Liwonde, a flood plain. Their new home, the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, is mountainous. That means they will need to adjust to a somewhat different ecosystem with plants of different types available to eat.

When all is said and done, if protecting these wonderful animals means they must be moved, so be it. It’s time to take decisive action to help elephants survive in a world that seems intent on eliminating them. With luck, these 500 elephants will thrive and multiply in their new home.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

146 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Taking out poachers should be first concern.

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Cat L.
Cat H2 years ago

I hope the transition goes smoothly for these wonderful animals!

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Jane M.
Jane M2 years ago

OH MY! what ever it takes to save the lives of these wonderful animals! prays for their safety!!!!!

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Sara G.
Sara G2 years ago

Sending prayers for a safe, successful and low stress transfer.

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Rita delfing
Rita Delfing2 years ago

The human race needs to stop exploiting animals, if no one wanted ivory and it had no value then these poor beings would be left alone. Sick people that they are so greedy that they don't care who dies for their ivory so called desires.

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Arlene C.
Arlene C2 years ago

Merci Susan

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Margie FOURIE
Margie F2 years ago

To which country are they being moved? I do not know of that nature reserve. Just hope they will be safe and not produced as canned prey.

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Terri S.
Terri S2 years ago

I hope it works out for the elephants!! What a sick world we live in that we have to disrupt lives just to save them.

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Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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