A solar-powered 'Meerkat' is protecting South Africa's rhinos
17 February 2020
There are few things as intriguing as the majesty of the long-legged giraffe and the monochrome confusion caused by the zebra’s stripes. No wonder large groups of these animals are very aptly referred to as a tower and a dazzle respectively.
And it was in wonderment as we watched last week as these animals became part of an intricate symphony of connected activities that would ensure 11 giraffes and 75 zebra were safely moved – across country borders – to a spacious and lush habitat where their species will thrive.
During the second week of July, 2019, zebra and giraffe were captured on a private game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. They were then taken to a boma (large holding pen) for safekeeping before starting the journey to their new home in Zinave National Park, Mozambique.
Despite a close resemblance to horses, zebra is a completely different species. They are far more aggressive and a lot more dangerous. They do, however, communicate in much the same way; they snort when excited and nicker when greeting each other. A zebra’s ears give clues as to which mood they are in.
Giraffe are the tallest animals on earth – the legs alone are taller than most humans. They spend their lives on their feet; they even sleep standing up. Giraffe carry a special place of honour on Zinave National Park’s logo.
At the boma, the animals were evaluated in order to select only those that would travel well. The smallest giraffes were selected so as to minimise any risks associated with the long journey ahead of them. The holding pens seen here are used for sorting the animals into groups.
In total, 11 giraffes were selected for translocation.
75 zebras were selected for translocation. These animals are notoriously difficult to translocate as they can be very aggressive during transport.
During this relocation the zebras were kept in their family groups which made them more relaxed and much less aggressive with each other.
Illuminated only by the light of the full moon, the team quietly loaded animals into wildlife transportation trucks on the night of 14 June 2019. Without loud sounds the animals remained calm and in the low light they were slightly disorientated, which made them walk onto the trucks almost without knowing it. This technique greatly lowers the amount of stress on the animals, making the operation safer for all involved.
The translocation crew prepare for loading the zebra. The animals were guided onto the truck via a ramp and then moved into various compartments to ensure they had enough space during the journey.
The zebras and giraffes were transported from South Africa to Mozambique in four trucks, each with at least two drivers. In operations like these, the trucks do not stop except to refuel and check on the animals. A support crew travelled with the trucks in a separate vehicle. They drove ahead to order food for the drivers or stayed behind to pay for fuel. They also reached the border before the trucks to start the processing of documents, thereby ensuring a smooth crossover. All this in an effort to waste not a second and get the animals to their new sanctuary as quickly and safely as possible.
Before the trucks departed for Mozambique, the doors were sealed with metal clips that were only to be removed once they reached Zinave National Park. At the border between South Africa and Mozambique, instead of counting the animals – which takes unnecessary time, customs officials inspected these seals to verify that no more animals were loaded after the trucks left the bomas. During long translocations such as these, great care is taken to avoid all possible delays.
The giraffes were released into an open plain with scattered trees that provided enough cover to make them feel safe, while preventing them from running into thick bush. The area is located within the middle of a 18 600 hectare sanctuary, far away from any fences lines, within Zinave National Park. The sanctuary, which will offer them the space and food resources they need to grow as a species, is home to a number of animals, such as elephant, buffalo, impala, wildebeest, warthog, waterbuck and reedbuck, that have all been translocated here over the last few years. A well-trained and deeply committed ranger force is keeping a close eye to ensure their safety.
Not a single animal was lost during this translocation. All 11 giraffe and 75 zebra reached Zinave National Park safely and were welcomed with great excitement.
Translocations such as these are some of Peace Parks’ most ambitious projects; it relieves the pressure on overpopulated parks and reserves, while restoring balance to ecosystems that were thrown into chaos without the presence of wildlife. The support of generous donors such as De Beers Group, which made this translocation possible, makes rewilding Africa a reality. Together, we are restoring tomorrow, one animal at a time.
Zinave National Park is co-managed by Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas and Peace Parks Foundation. In 2018, Peace Parks and De Beers Group embarked on a partnership to move elephant and other plains game to Zinave in an effort to restore the park’s biodiversity. De Beers Group is backing up its investment in the wildlife translocation initiative by providing Peace Parks with a US$500,000 investment from the Anglo American Foundation to enhance and extend anti-poaching support measures in Zinave.