Wildlife TV

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Adventures with the sleeping Elephant

on September 13, 2013

Life in the African bush is always an adventure. Exciting things happening all the time, most of them without any warning.

This is what happened yesterday. Me and Nick were having a “normal” busy day at the reserve when we found out that one of the elephant bulls was going to be darted from a helicopter to have his collar removed. The device had been placed on his neck a few years back for research purposes but the project had already been complete and was not necessary to have the animal with a man-made apparatus on his neck any longer so all the arrangements to have it removed were made.

Unfortunately as I just mentioned, me and Nick were quite busy and only one of us could go as there were other things to be done during that specific time. Nick volunteered to be left behind so I could go. He had heard the plans and we swapped vehicles without me knowing what was going on. It was not until he was gone that the other people informed me that he had “sacrificed” his position for me to go along. By the time I found out there was no more turning back and I had to keep on driving to meet the research and management team and he stayed behind working. Things like this remind me what a wonderful partner he is.

All the preparations with the people I was taking on the vehicle were done in a few minutes, we met the people in charge of the entire operation at the exact time they had requested us to join and we were briefed on what would happen and what to expect.

There were 3 male elephants together, one of them with the collar. The helicopter would arrive soon and within minutes would try to separate the one we needed from the other 2 and try to direct him close to the road (for easy access). Once the animal was darted and sedated using M99 we would have to rush, jump out of the vehicles, get as close of an adult big elephant asleep as we could only dream of, snap a few pictures while the collar was being removed and then rush out. And this is exactly what happened, extremely efficiently and extremely fast.

There were a few more vehicles than expected, the reserve had kept this operation a secret from the majority of people but by random chance a few safari vehicles were passing by and noticed the commotion and joined us on this once in a lifetime opportunity.

The animal was immobilized and surrounded by several people: management, guests, researchers, students, rangers, you name it. Taking photos was crazy but I managed to ask a colleague to snap a quick photo of me with the elephant in the background.

Sofia Santos with sleeping african elephant (Loxodonta africana) bull

Sofia with a sleeping african elephant (Loxodonta africana) bull

I think one of the funniest things about this situation is that the elephant bull was snoring… It had never occurred to me that such a big creature would snore when asleep.

Seconds after the above picture was taken we were all instructed to leave and return to the vehicles and drive away fast. We positioned ourselves a few hundred meters away in a way that allowed us to see him waking up in safety and observed him starting to stumble up back on his feet looking very confused.

He quickly got up and started running along the bush. We followed with the vehicle for a bit to check out if everything was ok and to our delight he dashed into in a small dam close by. He must have been flustered and quite hot and decided that a nice cold swim would be perfect. After getting in to his belly level he kept on running around looking for his mates. Unfortunately he was running on the opposite direction from where they had gone but I’m sure that as soon as he calmed down he would use infrasonic vocalisations to locate the rest of his group without any problem.

So overall yesterday was quite an adventure. I wonder what crazy and exciting experiences are still ahead of us!

Até à próxima!



If you liked this entry, make sure you check out our Research category.
Previous Research entries:
Elephants avoid a full moon when being naughty
What perfume to wear on an African safari
‘Ugly’ Animals: Can naked mole rats cure cancer?

9 responses to “Adventures with the sleeping Elephant

  1. Who covers the cost of the tranquilizers? An elephant-sized dosage can’t be cheap

    • Wildlife TV says:

      The reserve where I work pays for everything: the tranquillizers, the helicopter and all the staff involved in the operation.
      Having a reserve in South Africa is almost like owning a small country, you provide facilities and the owners of the plots have to pay for their business (or leisure) to be there.
      People are happy and animals get properly managed so I guess it’s a win win situation.


  2. Wildlife TV says:

    It was quite unforgettable 🙂
    I’ve seen animals being sedated in a captive environment and it’s definitely “easier” as the animal can be separated from the group safely and then sedated in a controlled environment.
    In the wild many things can go wrong but I guess people that do this professionally know exactly what needs to be done and when and are quite efficient about it.


  3. Alison Jobling says:

    You’re so lucky to be working in a reserve (and to be able to hear an elephant snore!). 🙂

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