Harry and his family
For three years now Harry and his elephant family have enjoyed life at their new home, Plettenberg Game Reserve, where they enjoy a massive area to explore and feed. Every day after breakfast time, the herd walks out to roam and graze in the vast reserve where they often encounter giraffe, rhino, buffalo, waterbuck and more!
At the end of the day the elephants return to their night camp, which houses a big shelter with a heat lamp where they can sleep and stay warm during the cooler evenings. The herd’s handlers stay nearby onsite, and to this day keep a watchful eye over Harry and his family.
There is also a new addition to this family – Kitty! Kitty came to live with the guides about a year ago, after his owner moved overseas. Even though he is quite a small cat, he has no fear of the elephants and often sits in between them and watches while they enjoy their breakfast!
Clyde and Shaka
Last month marked the two year anniversary of the departure of our two handsome bachelors, Clyde and Shaka. Since their arrival at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, they have thrived and they thoroughly enjoy life in the wild!
AERU has paid the boys a few visits since their release, often having to drive for quite a while to try and spot the boys far away in the depths of the valley. On other occasions we have been luckier and seen them at a slightly closer range – sometimes with the other three resident elephants; 40-year old Sam, his 4-year-old daughter Thambile and his teenage son Chima. Both Clyde and Shaka have seemed to form a good relationship with this small family of three, and the five are often spotted all together, or not too far away from one another. For both AERU and KEP this is an incredible success story – especially for Clyde, an ex-circus elephant. To see our boys happy and flourishing in their new home is a huge achievement for us!
Indlovu Gin – an African experience!
Often in life we discover that the world is a much smaller place than we expect, which leads to many surprising encounters!
Earlier this year, Paula and Les from Indlovu Gin visited the Knysna Elephant Park to discuss their latest project. Indlovu Gin produces a truly African experience in a bottle – an elephant-dung infused gin! Not only that, but as it so happens, the dung sourced to create this gin is obtained from Botlierskop – where Clyde and Shaka are some of the main contributors to this uniquely African product! What are the chances that our boys would be a part of such an up and coming product in South African tourism?
Mala’s Incredible Journey
We’re delighted to let you know that in April, Mala took on the incredible journey and was translocated to her new home! Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our donors, we were able to raise the money to transport Mala to SanWild, in Limpopo province. SanWild is a wildlife rescue centre that not only rehabilitates wild animals in need of help, but later release those animals into SanWild’s own reserve, where they can live out their lives wild and free with their own kind – including many other ex-orphans!
Because this reserve is on SanWild’s own site, they have developed a ‘slow-release’ system to allow hand-reared animals like Mala to be introduced to their natural habitat in stages, until they are finally ready to live independent of humans. And because SanWild’s rescued lions are kept securely in separate enclosures, there is no danger of a naïve young zebra like Mala being picked on by a predator!
Under a light sedation, Mala walked into the horsebox without much fuss or hassle. With the help of a camera in the horsebox, we were able to monitor her constantly from the vehicle in the front. As the sedation started to wear off towards the end of the journey, she decided to check out the camera… thankfully it survived her curiosity!!
At noon on April 16th, after a gruelling 22 hours and 1700km on the road, Mala took her first steps in SanWild… and she was home!
AERU team members stayed for a week to help her adjust to the change, and watched her settle in at SanWild with breathtaking speed! Within a couple of days she was accepting her milk from Rebecca, the housekeeper and mother to all animals, and a few days later she was sleeping on the lawn with the dogs, who had accepted her without question. Mala was so incredibly calm and relaxed that you would think she had been born there!
Once again, thank you to every volunteer who spent many hours helping to care for Mala, to every donor who provided the much needed funds to translocate Mala, the team who transported and watched over her during the translocation, and to everyone who supported little Mala’s incredible journey to her new wild home!
You might be wondering what became of Mala’s goat friend, Bokkie, who kept Mala company while she lived at KEP. The same day that Mala left for her new home, we took Bokkie back to her old home – and judging by her reunion with the other goats, she was very excited to be back! Thank you very much to Rene at Plett Pancake Paradise once again, who so kindly loaned Bokkie to us for the few months that Mala was here with us. We are sure that Mala learnt many things from her goat aunty!
by Hannah Needle
Mashudu, the young aspiring bull, may like to think he is the “boy about town” when it comes to wooing the ladies. However, when it comes to food he is some way down the pecking order. Thankfully for him, he has a devoted human who would do pretty much whatever he can to make sure “his small boy” gets his share!
It was a hot but otherwise uneventful day on the Park when a group of volunteers got to witness this in motion. Picture the scene: The tractor had just arrived to deliver straw to the field, the elephants had all dispersed in various directions to grab their yummy treat. Knowing that he isn’t as quick at eating as some, Zenzo decided to position himself next to Mashudu as he ate. The following twenty minutes can only be described as a true test of loyalty.
As Mashudu happily munched, his personal bodyguard defended him from every angle. Every time one of the bigger or more dominant elephants approached they were directed away quickly. After several minutes of this, something incredible happened – Shanti and Thandi decided to team up! These are two elephants you wouldn’t ordinarily see working together, but on this particular day they worked well together. With Shanti one side, Thandi the other and Mashudu in the middle, the two girls took in turns to sneak closer to the delicious straw. This meant that the human shield had his time split running from one side to the other.
Each time the guide approached one of the wannabe thieves they would stop, giving the other an opportunity to edge closer – and thus the game of cat-and-mouse continued, for a good ten minutes! All the while Mashudu was blissfully enjoying his snack, with seemingly no care in the world, safe in the knowledge his human had his back!
Update from Fiela’s Legacy Lab
We are very excited to share the news that we have received the results of the dung samples from the Endocrine Research Lab (Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Pretoria), which were sent off in November last year! The faecal progesterone and glucocorticoid metabolite levels from these 365 dung samples of Keisha and Sally has given us the opportunity to look a lot closer at a variety of things.
The aim of this endeavour was to deduce whether Keisha’s stereotypical behaviour (weaving) was influenced or due to her oestrus cycle. At face value it looks like there is no direct correlation between her oestrus cycle and her weaving behaviour, however we will still need to look at the numbers in more detail to evaluate the relationship. It seems like there may actually be other factors at play which influences her stereotypical behaviour, which means that we will need to spend more time looking at adding different parameters to see if we can identify the influencers.
We did however have quite an interesting discovery when we compared Sally and Keisha’s progesterone metabolite levels. We had always believed that Sally is acyclic – meaning that Sally did not show oestrus cycles. Our results contradicted this and actually proves that not only does Sally display oestrus cycles, but it is synchronized with Keisha’s cycle! Oestrus cycles in a family group of wild elephants have been known to synchronize. This is also a potential future project for us to compare with our other females and see whether they follow a similar pattern!
Elephants: cancer warriors?
Could elephants hold part of the key to fighting the curse of cancer? That might seem like an unlikely question, but KEP elephants have been recruited into a study to search for the answer.
Elephants are naturally – and strangely – resistant to all types of cancer. In 2015, scientists discovered why: they have a natural genetic advantage due to having many copies of a gene that suppresses the growth of tumours. Now, a research team is investigating whether elephants’ special genetic protection is something that scientists can apply to human medical research. Could this special DNA eventually lead to new cancer medicines?
In March, Charlot Vandevoorde from Cape Town visited Knysna Elephant Park to collect blood samples from five of our elephants, for use in this medical research. How fantastic to think that our elephants’ blood might one day help to save your life!
Our big, grey family!
For the past two years, we have had the privilege of watching the integration of the three new girls (Amari, Shanti and Madiwa) into the residential herd. There have been ups and downs and many changes, but we are proud to say that our elephant family is doing very well!
It is incredible to compare now to when the girls first joined us in May 2017. We are observing that all ten elephants spend most of the day in each other’s company; feeding together and interacting with one another. They also tend to move around the field together as a family, and even though not all have a strong relationship with one another, there is no visible division between the two groups.
We have noted how certain friendships have started forming, while others have just blossomed! Mashudu and Madiwa still thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, and are often an entertaining sight in the field as they spar and play together. Shungu still loves spending time with all three girls and is often seen in their company – sometimes even joining them when they wander off and disappear into the valley. Keisha’s friendship with the girls continues to grow, and having formed a very tight-knit group, they spend a large part of the daytime together.
We have also seen that Thato has become friendlier towards the girls, and as a member of the more dominant circle of the herd (Sally, Nandi and Thandi) this is a very important step as this may help with the more dominant elephants fully accepting the girls into the herd quicker.