Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 June 2019
The development of elephant translocations in South Africa
THE NUMBER of game reserves and game ranches increased tremendously in South Africa over the past two decades, setting demands on the wildlife translocation industry that spurred the evolution and unique development of elephant translocation to the current level of proficiency. Initially, small groups of juvenile elephants, originating from culling operations in Kruger, were translocated to several game ranches and reserves all over South Africa (Du Toit, 1991). Larger groups were moved to places such as Pilanesberg and Madikwe National Parks in the North West Province, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi in KwaZulu-Natal and Songimvelo in Mpumulanga.
The first adult elephant groups were moved in 1993 from Gonarhezou in Zimbabwe to Madikwe National Park (200 elephants) and Phinda Game Reserve (10 elephants). In the following year, which also marked the end of elephant culling in Kruger, 146 elephants were moved from Kruger into various reserves, with 50 of them going to Welgevonden in Limpopo Province. An important landmark was achieved in 1997 with the first translocations of adult elephant bulls to Pilanesberg from Kruger, which now meant that any size of elephant could be moved, making South Africa a world leader on this front (Slotow & Van Dyk, 2002).
Historical problems and solutions
The translocated juvenile elephants formed large groups, were very secretive and avoided human contact, staying mostly in dense bush and thickets. There were reports of break-outs and abnormal aggression towards humans, and in some instances even fatal attacks (Slotow & Van Dyk, 2002). The introduction of family groups in Madikwe in 1993 had a positive effect on their behaviour and the majority of juveniles integrated with these herds and became less secretive afterwards. An additional dramatic reaction was the killing of black and white rhino by young, rogue elephant bulls coming into musth at an early age, especially in Pilanesberg National Park and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserves. While the majority of problem cases were handled by destroying the specific culprits, the translocation of adult elephant bulls into Pilanesberg National Park and Hluhluwe–Umfolozi provided a long-term solution for the rhino killers (Slotow et al., 2002).