Prince Harry spent almost three weeks on the ground in Malawi with African Parks, a conservation NGO that manages protected areas and national parks on behalf of governments, where he served as part of the expert team and helped implement the first phase of ‘500 elephants’.
This initiative is one of the largest and most significant elephant translocations in conservation history where up to 500 elephants are being moved over 350 kilometres across Malawi from Liwonde National Mark and Majete Wildlife Reserve to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, where the elephants will be able to thrive. All three parks are managed by African Parks in partnership with the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).
The ‘500 Elephants’ initiative, led by African Parks, will play a critical rote in helping to secure a long-term future for Malawi’s elephants. Prince Harry assisted with the first phase of the translocation during which 261 elephants were successfully re-homed in Nkhotakota. The remaining 239 elephants will be moved during the second phase which will occur in the summer of 2017.
“We are thrilled to have Prince Harry serve as an integral part of our translocation team” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “He has extensive field experience and was extremely comfortable with the animals, whether helping an anesthetised elephant to the ground and monitoring its breathing to affixing radio collars. He played a vital role in many aspects of this giant operation which requires not only all hands on deck, but a vigilance he exudes, and a commitment to the cause he embodies”.
Along with moving elephants, Prince Harry assisted with translocating a male rhino, a host of game species including antelope, buffalo, and zebra (more than 1,500 head of game were also translocated to Nkhotakota to help restore the park), and he facilitated in re-collaring three lions in Majete with GPS collars to monitor and better protect them.
“There has to be a balance between the numbers of animals, and the available habitat. Just how nature intended it” said Prince Harry. “In this case, African Parks, in partnership with the Malawian government, have re-established a safe area for elephants to be moved back to. This simultaneously relieves the pressure in Liwonde, and restocks Nkhotakota so both populations of elephants can continue to grow”.
500 Elephants has two objectives: to relieve human-wildlife conflict and pressure on natural habitats from the high density of elephants in Liwonde and Majete, and to restore Nkhotakota making it a premiere elephant sanctuary for Malawi. As recently as 20 years ago, Nkhotakota supported more than 1,500 elephants but due to rampant poaching had as few as 100 elephants before the start of the translocation this year. Since African Parks’ management, law enforcement has been completely overhauled to secure the park and prepare for the arrival of the translocated elephants and game species. Majete has been managed by African Parks since 2003 and is a conservation success story in that prior to assuming management, most of the wildlife had been hunted out. Today, after African Parks reintroduced elephants, rhino, lions, leopard, buffalo and a host of other species, the park has rebounded making it Malawi’s only Big Five reserve now home to a population of more than 400 elephants; tourism has flourished and benefits are being derived by the local communities.
African Parks assumed management of Liwonde and Nkhotakota just in August of 2015 and immediately began fencing both parks (to reduce conflict in Liwonde, and prepare for the translocation in Nkhotakota) and have overhauled law enforcement in both places through ranger recruitment, training, active patrols and technology, making them more secure for wildlife. As Malawi is a densely-populated, agro-based country, ecological corridors no longer exist to allow for natural migration, however the “500 Elephants” initiative is a human-assisted migration providing the best chance of a long-term and sustainable future for these elephants.
Under mounting pressure from poaching, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict, the African elephant is being increasingly threatened in many parts of the continent. Numbering as many as 10,000,000 a century ago, recent census results indicate they have been reduced to fewer than 450,000. With between 30,000 to 40,000 elephants being poached every year to feed the insatiable demand for ivory, their long-term survival at risk
Good news in conservation is often just the absence of bad news” continued Peter Fearnhead. “What we’re seeing with ‘500 Elephants’ is a pivotal moment for Malawi who is emerging as a leader in African elephant conservation. We’re looking head on at the consequences of well-managed protected areas like Majete with increasing populations of elephants and other species, and how this creates opportunities for wildlife and communities. It’s a story of hope and survival, and serves as inspiration as to what is possible”.
The following video is a 10 minute overview of the 500 Elephants campaign in 2016 from the People’s Postcode lottery, which supported the initiative: