MALAWI (CNN) – Imagine Africa’s ever shrinking elephant tribe, it’s hard to do.
However, these huge lumbering and much loved beasts are among the most endangered. Shrinking habitats and poachers have decimated the elephant population but now, a huge man-made migration in Malawi may very well be the remedy.
The chase led from the air.
“We are going to start with a group of 4,” said Andrew Parker, Director of African Parks.
Capture team at the ready.
“We don’t want to cross them back over,” said Parker.
This is conservation on its absolute largest scale. A record translocation.
“It’s just gone down, the other one is still quite wide awake,” said Parker.
Not just a single elephant, entire herds darted.
“We need to take a cohesive family group, right from the oldest matriarch, down to the smallest baby,” said Parker.
For the continent’s most iconic species, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
(Parker pointing out elephants) “Look here on the left, a large herd of elephants. Isn’t it just wonderful,” said Parker.
Tens of thousands lost each year but not in Liwonde.
David McKenzie, CNN: “So there maybe 20 in a herd over there… they have been so successful in this park in protecting the elephant that there are just too many here.”
Andrew Parker: “Elephant populations in Africa are under pressure from poaching and habitat lost. So they are now increasingly being confined into these smaller and smaller protected areas”
David McKenzie, CNN: “It is extraordinary you are taking an area where elephants are locally extinct and you are rejuvenating the population.”
Andrew Parker: “Well, that is exactly what we are doing. Elephants cannot move naturally through a transformed landscape anymore so this is effectively a human induced migration. Scale isn’t a limitation, distance isn’t a limitation, and the tide can be reversed.”
However, the operation isn’t without risk. An adolescent stops breathing. Every time an elephant goes down, its massive weight becomes a danger to itself. This is just one out of 500 elephants they hope to move but with the very survival of the species at stake, each one is precious.
David McKenzie, CNN: “You were doing everything you can to try and revive that animal.”
“Yeah, we tried to resuscitate the animal. We were literally here within a minute or two and it was just too late,” said Parker.
And they’re pioneering new methods to lessen the danger.
“We try keep the stress on the animals as low as possible. Get them into the crates as quickly as possible, wake them up as quickly as possible. It reduces the time under anesthesia,” said Parker.
The epic journey north starts the same day too. The journey will be repeated several times over the next six weeks for each new herd.
“What do you see over there? There is an elephant over there. So we brought in six elephants in here…last night,” said Parker.
There used to be 1500 elephants in Nkhotakota. Poachers slaughtered all but 70 but as the gate opens for the new arrivals, Sam Kamoto is confident.
“Is the future bright for elephants in Malawi?”
“The future looks bright indeed. These animals have travelled a long distance and finally they are going out into a sort of freedom. We see that there is hope now, that we can save this species,” said Kamoto.
His team has secured the park for this very moment. its rebirth.