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The introduction of a herd of elephant to the Samara Private Game Reserve has marked a conservation milestone as these animals return to their historic range.
The herd that was reintroduced to the Eastern Cape’s Samara reserve late last week consists of a small family of six elephants.
Once they are settled, they will be joined by a mature bull. In time, another small family group may also be introduced.
Samara owners Sarah and Mark Tompkins said when they first established the reserve in 1997, their aim was to restore the area to the wildlife haven it had been before species like cheetah, rhino, Cape lion, springbok and elephant were eradicated.
“This is an extremely important area from an ecological point of view,” Sarah said.
The Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Thicket, where Samara’s 27000 hectares of scenic wilderness is located, had been designated as one of the world’s 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots, she said.
The reserve has long held the goal of reintroducing elephants to the plains of Camdeboo – made famous by Eve Palmer’s 1966 book, The Plains of Camdeboo.
This goal was even more significant given that the population of African elephants has dropped by an alarming 30% in just 10 years.
Sarah cites the recent Great Elephant Census, funded by Paul G Allen, which shows that numbers continue to decrease because of poaching for ivory, human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss.
To safeguard the future of the species, there is a need to manage elephants as part of meta-populations – a group of spatially separated populations between which translocations can take place to ensure genetic diversity and establish founder populations where elephants previously occurred but have since been eradicated.
“It’s a significant moment for so many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the introduction is symbolically recreating ancient elephant migratory routes from the coast,” Sarah said.
The translocation of the elephants was undertaken by capture specialist Kester Vickery, of Conservation Solutions, and was partially funded by the NGO Elephants, Rhinos & People and the Friends of Samara – and supported by Wilderness Foundation UK.