While I was managing Phinda Zuka Lodge we had a wonderful family who had booked to be involved in an elephant collaring experience.
We all went out early in the morning. The vet had already spotted and identified the elephant that was to be collared. (Only the matriarch of each herd has a collar and this is only for research purposes.)
After a briefing from the vet as well as the reserve manager, we headed off to witness an amazing event.
The vet darted the elephant from a helicopter and then followed her until she went down.
From that moment it was all adrenaline pumping and fast-paced as there is only a short window period before the elephants start to wake up. There is also the ever-present remainder of the herd.
No elephant herd is happy to have any member of their family darted from a helicopter and then surrounded by vehicles and people. This meant that there were always guides prepared and in vehicles if they needed to encourage the elephants to move away from the scene.
As soon as everyone was on the scene it was like watching a well-oiled machine.
To ensure that the elephant’s trunk doesn’t close, a twig is placed between the two sides which is a very interesting idea but it works.
All measurements and various tests were taken.
The old collar is removed and the new one is slid into place. Please try and picture how many people were involved in what sounds like a simple act. Just remember how big an elephant is so just sliding the collar underneath her neck is no light job.
After doing this, the collar is measured and adjusted and the extra portion removed.
The vet does one last check on the comfort of the elephant.
A final test is done to make sure the transmitter is working and just like that the antidote is given.
We all hopped into the respective vehicles and moved off to a safe distance.
To watch this amazing animal wake up, roll onto her haunches and after what seemed like eternity take uneasy steps was a mesmerizing sight.
The herd then moved in and gently caressed their matriarch with their trunks. After checking and affirming that she was not harmed they slowly moved off into the bush.
Within what seemed like a split second they were gone.
No evidence that they were ever there other than the broken branches.
Not even a sound as they moved away from us…
This was an amazing experience from beginning to end