June 11, 2009—Hoisted—upside down—onto flatbeds, tranquilized Malawian elephants were being trucked away after deadly encounters with local people. Now the community, fearing loss of tourism revenue, says the animals should stay.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
IFAW, the international fund for animal welfare started an operation on June 10 to move the Phirilongwe (pi-ri-long-way) elephants from the Mangochi (mon-go-chee) district to Malawi's only fenced park.
SOUNDBITE: (English) Neil Greenwood, IFAW Campaign Officer: IFAW was approached by the government of Malawi to assist them with the relocation of these Phirilongwe elephants, and that's what we're going to be doing here for the next three weeks or so. There's been a lot of human-elephant conflict in the area."
Conservationists start by herding elephants towards waiting trucks and ground teams, with a helicopter.
From inside the helicopter, the elephants are located by their previously fitted radio collars and darted.
Ground teams then approach the partially tranquilized elephants to ensure that their trunks are not constricted and the elephants breathe properly.
They are then inspected for injuries sustained as a result of human-wildlife conflict.
One elephant had lost the last part of its trunk in a snare.
Elephant cows and calves are carefully numbered to ensure they are matched up at the new park.
The first of the Phirilongwe elephants made it down to the park on the evening of June 10.
But the relocation of the elephants is being opposed by some in Mangochi.
SOUNDBITE: (English) Ismail Khan, Local businessman: "The tourists come here to see animals. They don't come here to swim. There's a lot of water all over this universe. And beaches, and everything? facilities that we do not have. They come to see animals. And this is a tourist area, Mangochi, and they are taking our elephants away. Are tourists going to come here to Mangochi? No, I doubt it. So I'm asking the international community to please assist Malawi in getting its senses together so we can a proper, in place, a game reserve that is going to assist this nation."
Khan has succeeded in stopping the elephant relocation through legal means.
Yet, the conservationists in charge of the move insist that the relocation of the elephants is necessary.
SOUNDBITE: (English) Kester Vickery, Co-owner Conservation Solutions: "The ideal scenario would be to set up a game reserve to look after these elephants in the area, but there is no finance and there is no suitable area for these elephants? for a long term solution. The only solution is to move them out to an existing reserve that's properly fenced where they can hopefully try and settle down because at this stage these elephants are very aggressive: they hate people, the people hate them."
At least 10 humans, as well as several of the Phirilongwe elephants have been killed in human/elephant conflicts, according to IFAW.
In turn these elephants have been subject to snares, bullets, arrows and other altercations with humans in the area.
Now the fate of the remaining Phirilongwe elephants, one of the world's last free-ranging herds, now hangs in the balance of continued activism and the Malawi judiciary.
IFAW say they are confident the legal issue will be resolved soon and the relocation will continue.