Wild elephants relocated, contracepted and tracked to better understand behaviour (South Africa)

Oct 9, 2020 | News

By The Citizen

The immunocontraception of female elephants are integral to controlling elephant populations, and saving them from being culled. This is HSI-Africa’s 1 041st elephant to receive non-invasive immunocontraception.
A herd of wild elephants that used to call Limpopo’s Atherstone Game Reserve home have been successfully relocated to a safer space, thanks to the combined efforts of conservation experts. 

The elephants were translocated by Global Supplies – Conservation Initiatives, along with the Elephant Reintegration Trust, as well as Humane Society International – Africa (HSI-Africa), and Swiss organisation Fondation Franz Weber. 

The translocation was complemented by the immunocontraception of HSI-Africa’s 1 041st female elephant, said the organisation’s wildlife director Audrey Delsink. 

The immunocontraception of female elephants is integral to controlling elephant populations, and saving them from being culled, Delsink explained. 

“Considering that a female is capable of reproducing eight to 10 elephant calves within her lifespan, the exponential effect of our immunocontraception programme means that thousands of elephants have been spared from death through a cull as they compete for land and resources with people in an ever-shrinking habitat.”

One of the female herd members that was contracepted was also kitted out with a satellite tracking collar, in a bid to provide groundbreaking research into elephant behaviour and reintegration, which Delsink said is key to humans better understanding elephant management.

What is immunocontraception?

The process of administering contraception to elephants is a humane way of controlling elephant populations, Delsink explained.

It is also non-steroidal and non-hormonal.

Non-steroidal drugs are anti-inflammatories that reduce pain, fever and inflammation. 

Non-hormonal drugs do not use hormones to prevent pregnancy. Instead, immunocontracception uses the female elephant’s own immune response to block egg fertilisation, she said.

Female elephants over 10 years of age are darted with a dart containing the immunocontraception vaccine, and marking dye. The darting takes place from a helicopter, and the dart itself falls out shortly afterwards, which means animals do not need to be temporarily put to sleep to be treated.

The process, Delsink said, takes minutes.

The relocation marks the 36th population treatment and 1 041st female elephant on immunocontraceptive treatment to date.

“This is more than half of all breeding age females in populations outside of the Kruger National Park,” Delsink said.

“We are delighted to collaborate with the Elephant Reintegration Trust, Foundation Franz Weber, who provided funding for the transportation of the elephants, and our partner, Global Supplies – Conservation Initiatives, as well as the progressive reserve that has willingly accepted this herd.

“We all share the same vision of peaceful human-animal co-existence,” added Delsink.


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