Sometimes it is possible to have too much of a good thing. But how could too many elephants be a bad thing? Believe it or not, one of De Beers Group’s nature reserves, The Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve in South Africa, has such a flourishing ecosystem, fertile land, and safe environment that the elephant population has grown higher than the area can sustain. In contrast, other African regions have a drastically lower population of elephants than they should. How can this unique issue be solved to ensure the largest, healthiest elephant population possible? That is what De Beers Group experts have been working on since 2018.
The Difference Moving Giants Can Make
Recognizing the importance of protecting elephants, De Beers has directed its efforts into its program, ‘ Moving Giants,’ one of the longest elephant translocations ever attempted. Working in partnership with Peace Parks Foundation, the project moves overpopulated elephants from De Beers’ Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve (VLNR) in South Africa to Zinave National Park in southern Mozambique, where the population was struggling to recover following 15 years of civil war.
“So far, we’ve translocated 101 elephants to Zinave National Park, which immediately relieved a great deal of the pressure on the habitat within the VLNR’s ecosystem,” De Beers’ Head of Biodiversity, Erin Parham, says. “The remaining translocations are on hold following COVID-19-related movement restrictions. In the meantime, our ecology team continues to monitor the ecosystem and elephants as part of our long-term strategy, ensuring that they are protected and thriving.”
An integral figure in the Moving Giants project has been Kester Vickery, co-founder of Conservation Solutions, a dedicated conservation activist, and an expert in relocating large animals. Vickery joined De Beers Group on the Moving Giants project in 2018 but has spent nearly his entire life working with elephants. “One of our current challenges is finding suitable protected habitat to translocate elephants too,” Vickery says. “But, thanks to the ambitious Moving Giants initiative, we have now learned that we can move large groups of elephants over long distances. Armed with this knowledge, we can potentially move elephants to new areas previously thought too far.”
Elephants are one of the most fascinating and large animals on our planet. In fact, they are the world’s largest land animals. Did you know that baby elephants are one of the world’s most advanced newborn species? They usually weigh around 200 lbs (91kg), and within minutes of being born, they’ll be on their feet, standing three feet tall to reach their mother’s milk. Meanwhile, the females in the group will be trumpeting to announce the new arrival. Each mother starts giving birth around 15 years old and can have as many as 12 calves throughout her 60-70 year lifespan. Their distinctive trunks have around 150,000 muscle units and are considered the most sensitive organ in any mammal. They also have one of the most unique forms of communication, using seismic signals that vibrate the ground and can be detected through their bones from miles away. They are not just fascinating and majestic; elephants are more critical to the world than you imagine.
Elephants Can Mitigate Climate Change
According to a 2020 report from the International Monetary Fund, African forest elephants significantly contribute to carbon capture. As they search for food, they thin out the forests, eating up or knocking down smaller trees that steal resources like sunlight and water from larger trees, which can store more carbon. While deforestation and poaching have reduced the population to approximately one-tenth of its former size, scientists estimate that if restored to previous numbers, these Central African creatures could contribute to the same amount of carbon capture as 250,000 trees.
Why Do Elephants Need Our Protection?
That the name “elephant” is a nod to their tusks (which are actually teeth)? It comes from the word “elephas,” which means “ivory” in Greek. However, the sad fact is that more baby elephants than ever are now being born tuskless. The reason, without a doubt, is humans. Decades of poaching have accelerated evolutionary developments, and tuskless elephants may be more likely to survive the threat of poachers. However, they are losing an essential functional part of their anatomy. Tusks are needed to strip bark from trees, dig holes, defend, lift objects, and much more. This puts elephants without tusks at a distinct disadvantage. The long-term consequences of such dramatic changes in elephant populations are only starting to be explored.
Baby Elephants Are a Symbol of Hope
As an incredible sign of success, the Moving Giants project has celebrated the birth of many baby elephants (calves), in the new park, Zinave, for the first time in many years. It’s a positive sign of hope for the Moving Giants elephants and the future of rewilding conservation worldwide.
As Trevor Landrey, Peace Parks Foundation’s operations manager at Zinave, shares: “It is incredibly exciting seeing the first elephant calves in Zinave for a long time. It shows that the elephants are happy and healthy. They have clearly adopted Zinave as their new home, and it is satisfying to know they will be around in the park for our children and grandchildren to see.”
Kester Vickery agrees: “It is proof to us that the translocation was conducted successfully with minimal stress to the elephants themselves. It is safe to say that the elephants have settled into their new environment. They seem relaxed in the park and are breeding well.”
“Hearing the news and seeing photos of baby elephant calves at Zinave has been a real highlight for the whole team,” Erin Parham continues. “Not only is it always nice to see photos of baby elephants, it demonstrates that the first translocations were successful, that the elephants are settled and thriving in their new landscape. And that Moving Giants is helping to secure new life for generations to come.”
How can you celebrate World Elephant Day? Keep an eye on De Beers’ Live cam, which streams from one of the De Beers Diamond Route reserves, for a glimpse of some of the many elephants there.