Despite ten years of relentless persecution by poachers Zakouma’s elephants seem to have retained some trust in humans. Zakouma staff recently photographed some astonishing behaviour by these wild elephants.
A herd of about 20 elephant bulls often found close to Zakouma headquarters started coming to a small waterhole at the house of Zakouma Park Manager, Rian Labuschagne. With the elephants only 15m away and knowing that they like clean water Rian took the hosepipe and starting spraying water towards them.
What resulted was an extraordinary interaction between elephant and man over a shared resource. In an unexpected display of trust a few of the elephants walked right up to Rian and started drinking from the garden hose he held in his hand.
Having numbered over 4,000 in 2002, Zakouma’s elephants have been decimated to a mere 450 individuals over the last ten years. These elephants leave the safety of the park during the wet season moving vast distances of up to 170km. Such extensive elephant movement and the difficulty of the terrain make elephant protection a considerable challenge.
Since African Parks’ involvement in Zakouma we have implemented a stringent anti-poaching strategy involving an extensive radio communication system and well placed bush airstrips for rapid deployment.
Elephants that have been fitted with satellite collars provide information on frequently used elephant routes, enabling a well-trained and well-equipped patrol unit to follow herds on a daily basis. Although poachers still managed to kill seven elephants in late 2011, this is a far cry from the 39 individuals killed the year before.
Zakouma’s elephant population is one of the last remaining populations in the Sudano-Sahelian ecosystem and their continued protection and subsequent population recovery is crucial. Although it is early days, we have made significant strides in reducing the rate of elephant poaching in Zakouma.
It is events such as this where elephants, having endured years of torment, still show such trust, that give us hope for a future where elephant and man coexist peacefully and encourage us to continue our efforts with renewed vigour.