14 Mar Two Elephant Cows Get a Collar Upgrade
*BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP*
It’s three o’clock in the morning. I reach over to my phone in an attempt to snooze the alarm. It’s still pitch black outside and there is an icy chill in the air- surely I can work in an extra five minutes?
Alas, my hopes and dreams of experiencing a few more peaceful minutes of sleep are shattered as Matt turns on the bedroom light. Its time to search for the elephants.
On an overcast morning on the 27th of February, Welgevonden’s management team, in collaboration with Dr Peter Caldwell, expertly collared two elephant cows. The elephants selected are both key individuals within their herds and had already been fitted with collars in 2006/7. However, these collars were lacking revolutionary GPS technology and an upgrade was necessary for improved monitoring and data analysis.
Matthew Thorp, the reserve’s elephant monitor, successfully relocated the two herds browsing in the northern region of the reserve at approximately 6 o’clock that morning. He continued to diligently monitor the herds’ movements until the rest of the team arrived to help conduct the procedure.
Matt and Peter took to the air where they located the first matriarch via helicopter. Peter then went to dart the elephant with a concoction of anesthetic drugs from this vantage point using a specialised dart gun. These drugs are perfectly safe and render the elephant unconscious for the purposes of the procedure.
Once the elephant was down, the rest of the team were able to rush in and assist. Peter, with the help of his vet-nurse students, proceeded to monitor a number of the elephant’s vitals including: heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and various other parameters to ensure the overall safety of the animal while under anesthetic. In addition, the vet administered a number of immune boosting drugs to aid the animal’s recovery post procedure. With the vet ensuring the well-being of the elephant, management were able to focus solely on the efficient fitting of the new collar.
The entire process lasted approximately 30 minutes after which time the vet proceeded to administer the reversal drugs, allowing the elephant to come to and return to her feet. Although slightly disoriented, as we all are after being under anesthetic, the elephant managed to meander back into the thicket where she would have attempted to relocate her anxiously awaiting herd.
The second elephant collaring was just as smooth a process as the first, although on this occasion, Matt and Peter had to slip the collar over the large cow’s ear while she was in the process of getting back onto her feet. Once the collar had been adequately re-positioned, the two men beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the vehicle.
Welgevonden would like to thank the Jennings family who kindly sponsored both elephant collaring procedures.
“The more GPS collars we have in the population, the more accurate our decisions regarding the management of Welgevonden’s elephants. These collars, combined with an intimate monitoring programme, make for interesting data and an interesting life in the bush”- Matt Thorp
All photos were captured by Jessica Oosthuyse