Moving Giants, together: Sanctuary and Success for Zinave’s Elephants

Zinave National Park is a breathtaking 400 000 hectares of lush forest and grassland. One of Mozambique’s flagship protected areas, it paints a vivid picture of how life can make a comeback, given a chance. Efforts made by people, teams and partnerships, often across borders, are shifting the entire landscape into a new state of balance and bounty, and the elephants here are unmissable beneficiaries.

In 2019 De Beers came forward with a game-changing gesture, part of their Moving Giants initiative. They offered to source 101 elephants from Venetia-Limpopo Nature Reserve, a 33 000 ha wildlife sanctuary in the northernmost part of South Africa, where surplus numbers needed a new environment to relieve their current one of some pressure.

Elephant Success and Sanctuary in Zinave

De Beers is committed to protecting the natural world, where sustainable management of two important ecosystems gave rise to the Moving Giants initiative. In partnership with Peace Parks Foundation, we have been able to protect the elephant population in the reserve whilst also contributing to rewilding efforts in Zinave National Park.

Werner Taljaard, Venetia-Limpopo Nature Reserve Manager

South Africa and Mozambique work collaboratively to rewild national parks like Zinave, and in 2015 Peace Parks and the National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) signed a 20-year agreement to restore and co-manage the park, highlighting ANAC’s significant contribution and political support for transformative changes.

Zinave’s 400 000 hectares is astonishingly rich in trees and grasses, a veritable elephant canteen. They variously feed on miombo, mopane, marula and leadwood, and herds arriving from different reserves have shown preferences different to in their previous homes. This is a firm reassurance of their adaptability and, along with the births of healthy calves, shows how and why they’re thriving in the park.

With Zinave’s habitats on the road to revival, there came to be more than enough lush woodland – mopane, miombo, marula – to go around, motivating multiple translocations and boosting the ‘kick-start’ impact elephant make in the landscape. With a total of 223 of these mega-herbivores moved, the park now boasts a ‘meta population’ of an estimated 250, living in harmony with rich, functional habitats. Elephant calves toddle and trot by their mothers’ side, tossing their little trunks around without a care in the world; herds are fertile and flourishing.

Translocations aren’t straightforward at the best of times. Moving elephants must be done carefully and strategically, mindful of family structures so that neither animals nor the integrity of their groups suffer – and mindful of the significant costs involved. To join herds means joining hands.

Bringing elephants to any area is a massive task; they are not small animals. So you need the support of partners. You need the logistical support, the experts in this. You need financial support. You need political support. This is a transfrontier relocation, so partnerships are extremely important.

Bernard van Lente, Peace Park’s Project Manager in Zinave
Waving as they go: one of 101 elephants translocated as part of the Moving Giants initiative samples the scents of their home.

The coming together of funding, technical skills and donation of the animals themselves are key to success. De Beers, with a history of working with Peace Parks that predates the elephant translocation, were instrumental in the evolution, and realisation, of Zinave’s elephant vision, with vital financial support from Anglo American.

Since the elephants’ arrival there have been zero poaching incidents, a testament to conservation technology, and the tenacity and toolkits of incredible ranger teams.  There’s a new sense of security and synergy to the Zinave ecosystem, and the ripple effect of rewilding benefits reaches beyond the elephant and all those invested directly. Local communities are entitled to a 20% share of the park’s revenue and, as one of the Big 5, the elephants are a huge draw in tourism terms. This, in turn, represents a responsible, sustainable revenue stream and source of employment for local people living within and close by to Zinave.

That successful conservation hinges on communities and cross-sectoral collaboration is a reality that stands to benefit Zinave National Park immeasurably. It not only paves the way for a healthy, harmonious future for elephants, but raises a shining example of restoration, rewilding and the upliftment of livelihoods.

I’m very happy to have the elephants in Zinave National Park. I just want to congratulate Peace Parks and everyone for supporting the project and making it possible.

Estevao Chiure, a ranger in Zinave for 13 years

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