Wild Life

COLLARING A MATRIACH

Our partner, Manyoni Private Game Reserve, needed to replace an old collar on one of their matriarchs after the battery had died after over three years of wear. With COVID still impacting tourism and wildlife reserves’ operating budgets, it is an expensive but necessary intervention. When Manyoni asked if we could help, we said yes without a second thought. With generous support from our friends at Elephant Cooperation we were delighted to fund this project for the region’s elephants and to enable this very important conservation exercise to go ahead.

“The Manyoni Private Game Reserve utilizes tracking collars to assist with the monitoring of priority species, elephant being one of them.” explained Dane Atrobus, Manyoni’s Wildlife Coordinator. “The primary goal behind Manyoni’s elephant monitoring is habitat utilization. Elephants are ecological engineers, the pros and cons of which [include] opening up bush encroached areas, allowing new growth and increasing available grazing, or toppling large trees of ecological value such as raptor nest sites. Elephants have large daily movement parameters, capable of walking over 50kms a day making them difficult to locate. The collar we deployed is a GSM/VHF which uses cellphone towers to transmit GPS coordinates at set intervals. This means more data for less man hours and ensures that we know where our priority species are so that we can collect valuable data as well as monitor social dynamics, injuries, snare detection and new calves being born.”

On May 12th, the team assembled at Manyoni Private Game Reserve. The endeavor was led by Reserve Manager Karen Odendaal and wildlife vet Dr. Mike Toft. Working hands on with the largest land animal is no simple task. One mistake could be detrimental to the animal or create a dangerous situation for the people involved. Everything has to be triple checked, and everyone has to know their role. Three of our very own Wild Tomorrow Fund rangers came to observe and learn: Siyabonga our head ranger, and Mhloli and Mzi. After the briefing and when everything was set, Dr. Mike joined Wildlife Coordinator, Dane and Heligistix pilot Jason Fischer in the helicopter to search for the herd while everyone else jumped into off-road vehicles. It was time for the hard work to begin.

From the helicopter, they soon spotted the herd to the north of the reserve. They relayed the location to the ground crew who took off toward it, ready for when they were needed. As the helicopter closed in on the herd, Jason used his skills in precision flying to separate the matriarch, giving Dr. Mike the opportunity to take aim and shoot the tranquilizer dart. It hit its mark and they hovered in the air waiting for the drugs to take effect. She came to rest in an open spot near the road where the hands on work began. Jason landed to let Dr. Mike out before returning to the sky, making rounds to ensure the rest of the herd didn’t come onto the scene as they looked for their matriarch.

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