Two Elephant Cows Get a Collar Upgrade


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

Looking for elephants before the procedure

Matthew Thorp while searching for the elephants

Rolling over ellie_2

“All hands on deck”- volunteers, participants, vets and management team members alike are all needed to push the elephant onto her side

Rolling Over Ellie


Matt is excited about collaring two lovely elephants

Collar connection point

A lead-weight is used to keep the collar in the correct position

Collar in the grass

Matt, unraveling an elephant collar

Sam and vet-nurse student

Samuel Davidson Phillips, Conservation Manager, and a vet nurse student assessing the body condition of the elephant.


Matt and Sandra

Making sure the elephant is positioned correctly for the procedure

Matt, Jenning and Pip




Matt struggling with Gaia collar

Trying to wrap the collar around the elephant’s neck

Matt checking on Gaia

There is no question about it- Matt is absolutely passionate about the elephant’s he works with on a day-to-day basis

Peter Caldwell

Dr. Peter Caldwell exemplifies professionalism

Peter before reversing

Mr. Jenning

Chris Jennings, a member at Welgevonden Game Reserve and sponsor of the event, recording the procedure on his smart phone

Guest observing ellie procedure

guests enjoying the experience

Guests are absolutely fascinated by the texture of the elephant’s skin



Volunteers at our Research Centre are given the opportunity to assist during the collaring procedure


Dr. and Mrs Jennings are passionate about conservation and invested in the management of Welgevonden Game Reserve

Wild Revolutions

Patrick Bonior and Jessica Babich, owners of Wild Revolutions film and photography company



The Jennings family and a few of their friends enjoy being part of the operation

Group photo

part 1

Matt and Peter slip the collar over the elephant’s ear while the reversal drugs start to take effect


part 3


Gaia getting up (2)

Gaia getting up

Post procedure briefing

Back at camp, Matt and Sam discuss the elephant monitoring programme with guests