Unity , Power & Family

The Elephant was the ORIGINAL communicator in Africa, opening up pathways through the bush and over mountains for man to follow, thus uniting the continent.

The elephant is the symbol of AFRICAN UNITY. Have you ever wondered where the word  “trunk call” comes from?

The Elephant is also the strongest and largest land animal in the world, the King of all animals and therefore the symbol of POWER.

The Elephant has a powerful “sense of family” and members of the herd are connected by strong bonds.

The Elephant is therefore a symbol of FAMILY UNITY.

In our current world of uncertainty, anxiety and chaos, there is no time like the present to embrace these three words: UNITY, POWER and FAMILY. The unity of communities and nature working together, the power of individuals and animals, and the close bonds of family units. This is Africa and we love her passion and lessons she teaches us.

There are so many reasons why we need to protect these magnificent ‘Grey Ghosts’ of Africa.

Earlier this month, I took a small crew of passionate individuals to the Phalaborwa area (South Africa) to work alongside the phenomenal teams from Elephants Alive and Wildlife Vets.

The monies we raised allowed us to successfully collar two elephants. The Blue Sky Society Trust team’s fundraising efforts covered the cost of the cost of the helicopter and the wildlife vets for the collaring operation.

Our first collar was an exceptionally handsome 35-year old(ish) Bull Elephant named “Henrick” who had been collared by Elephants Alive before. The second one, a gorgeous cow from a breeding herd, was named “Tangles” after the Tanglewood Foundation that so generously sponsored the two collars. Ngibona kakhulu to Tanglewood’s Peter Eastwood for his constant generosity and for playing such a huge part in this all.

Not many people are aware of the behind-the-scenes logistics and the risks it takes to run a smooth Elephant Collaring operation. Safety is always a priority – for the crew and for the elephants. After all, we’re dealing with a six ton wild animal who isn’t aware of how important projects like these are.  There is so much to consider, so much to be aware of, and so many ways the operation may not go as planned. The terrain we were working on was near a working copper mine – with is filled with noisy machinery and humans and very hilly.  If, for example, Henrick or Tangles went down in a donga (ditch) or thick bush after being sedated, the operation would quickly move to a recovery then collaring operation.

There was also a very real possibility that Henrick or Tangles would end up in a sitting position after being sedated, putting too much pressure on their lungs so they wouldn’t be able to breathe properly this is called ‘sternal recumbency’. We’d then need to quickly flip them onto their side (This actually happened to Tangles). These are all very real challenges that involves some pretty nifty teamwork that can be potentially detrimental to the animals and the safety of the team too.

Even when sedated, elephants still communicate with their family members and so the crew is always on the lookout for anxious family members who may return to protect their loved ones. Elephants can communicate 2km to 10km away from each other through low-frequency sounds or rumbles.

But let’s circle back a bit: The experience kicks off with a detailed brief from vet in charge of the operation. The process is thoroughly explained and certain team members are assigned specific tasks.

The air team consisted of the helicopter pilot (Gerry McDonald, in this case), wildlife vet, Joel Alves, and a member of the Elephant Alive and mines wildlife monitoring crew. They set off to the skies to track down a suitable elephant in the designated area.

Once an animal has been located, it is up the incredible flying skills of the pilot to try and manoeuvre the elephant safely, into an accessible space. The crack shot darting skills of the vet then come into fruition. Once the animal has been darted, it takes a while for the drugs to kick in. Then, slowly but surely, the elephant goes down.

Then it’s time for the ground team to swiftly move in. While the satellite collar is being fitted, DNA, toenail, tail hair and breast milk (yes, you can milk an elephant) and stool samples are collected, and tusks, feet and shoulder height are measured.

Any wounds are addressed and breathing is closely monitored by placing a twig in the pachyderm’s trunk. (Did you know that an elephant has 40 000 muscles in their trunk!?). This is to make sure the air passages are kept clear and they are not under any stress. Once all is done, the antidote is administered and the ground crew back up to give the sleeping beauty the space needed to get up onto those very heavy and wobbly legs.

To see the passionate Elephants Alive team in action is something truly inspiring.

The work being done on the ground every single day by these dedicated eco-champions to protect and monitor our wildlife, restores my faith in humanity. Thank you Dr Michelle Henley and your team for making us feel so at home and for giving us a day we certainly will never forget.

There are many things you can do to help elephants and other wildlife. If you are interested in one of my upcoming wildlife fundraising expeditions – then please contact me.

Be safe out there and remember that by working together and lifting each other up, we are much more powerful.